The point of departure is clear. But from there, where does one go? On Black Stars, his third release as a leader for Blue Note, pianist Jason Moran shares one vision of contemporary jazz. Joined by septuagenarian jazz innovator, Sam Rivers, Moran fuses antecedent genres with his own sensibility to produce an album with a darkly modern sound.
Acknowledging the elder musician’s avant-garde heritage, the set opens with the free jazz inspired “Foot Under Foot”. After the theme stated in unison by piano and tenor, Rivers launches into dissonant screeches and bleats underpinned by Moran and Waits’ heavy, harmonized comping. Composed especially for Rivers, “Gangsterism on a River” (the third installment in Moran’s “Gangstermism” series) further reveals the pianist’s view of the free idiom. Moran establishes a jerky rhythm over which Rivers blasts high wails and deep honks. Moran’s nod to bop, “Skitter In”, sports a groovy theme mutated by a modernfragmented, heavysense of rhythm. Moran starts the improvisation off with lithe notes and a speedy tempo. Rivers’ solo is pure straight-ahead. In keeping with the genre, Moran, Rivers and Waits trade fours before piano and tenor reprise the theme.
Moran’s individual interpretation of the canon becomes clearer through trio arrangements and a solo outing. Following Waits’ opening to the Duke Ellington tune, “Kinda Dukish”, Moran establishes the bouncy theme. Subsequently he segues into melodic variations on the theme interspersed by jagged lines. On “Draw the Light Out”, he creates a rolling low-note melody that thunders and displays his dexterity with the left hand. Flying solo on Jaki Byard’s “Out Front”, Moran lays down a modern-tinged boogie theme. Half way through the tune, he explodes melodic patterns with dissonant notes and crashing chords.
Perhaps due to the choice of lead instrument, the most unique-sounding songs are the ones where Rivers employs the flute. “Summit” opens with a beautiful introduction where Rivers’ voice evokes the sound of a Japanese flute. After a momentary pause while Rivers switches to soprano saxophone, the quartet kicks out the theme. In comparison with his tenor work on the set, Rivers’ solo on “The Sun at Midnight” exhibits a decidedly melodic flavor.
Composing in a variety of musical genres, Jason Moran evinces on this album his command of established jazz vocabulary and his individual sense or rhythm. Listeners will enjoy his amalgam of the familiar with the rhythmic immediacy of today.