Jason Moran’s 1999 debut album, Soundtrack to Human Motion (Blue Note), may have secured him rave reviews and a reputation as one of the most original musicians around, but the 25-year-old piano sensation shows no signs at all of resting on those laurels. His second album, Facing Left (Blue Note), is quite different from its predecessor. Soundtrack featured a quintet and was comprised nearly entirely of original material. Facing Left, in contrast, is a stripped-down trio outing featuring bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits; it contains a substantial number of unusual non-original tunes. Clearly, Moran has no intention of repeating himself and settling into a rut. During his record-release celebration at the Jazz Standard in New York, Moran and his trio were already exploring new avenues and taking new chances.
Moran is well acquainted with Mateen and Waits from their work together with the New Directions band. (Incidentally, Mateen and Waits also back Marc Cary on his latest trio disc, Trillium [Jazzateria].) Playing a good deal of material from Facing Left, the three stretched out and made things happen on the bandstand. They played the two seldom-heard Ellington tunes, "Later" and "Wig Wise," as well as "Murder of Don Fanucci," a dramatic scene-setting piece from The Godfather, Part II which found Waits going off in a dramatic solo. On Jaki Byard’s "Twelve," Moran switched back and forth from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes, at one point even playing both instruments simultaneously, one with each hand. Two pieces from Soundtrack were also heard: the Ravel-inspired "States of Art" and the solo piano piece "Kinesics." As a final send-off, the trio played a medley of the two tunes arranged by Moran for the recent New Directions album: Horace Silver’s "Song For My Father" and Lee Morgan’s "The Sidewinder."
Watching Moran play live, one is struck by the fact that he’s created a unique stylistic alternative to the dominant Herbie Hancock legacy. He sounds nothing like the legion of pianists who could be described as Herbie-inspired: Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, David Kikoski, Joey Calderazzo, to name a small few. This is not to take anything away from Herbie Hancock or any of these players, nor to ignore significant differences between them. But Moran has taken another path, for the most part avoiding the linear, lock-step eighth-note approach of the Herbie school. As a result, his pianistic and compositional language often sounds like something never heard before. Moran’s greatest achievement thus far is to remind us that there’s always something new under the sun. He’s likely to be one of our most provocative artistic voices for years to come.
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