Jewels and Binoculars
With a reputation as a brilliant songwriter who can't sing, Bob Dylan is no doubt up there with Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers as the most oft interpreted pop bards of the 20th century. The Byrds and Joan Baez owe their careers to him and scores of others do just for his opening the '60s folk movement to a mass audience.
But what's considered important about Dylan (and American folk music in general) is the lyrics. He's a provocative poet and his decades of musical explorationfrom early Woody Guthrie inspiration to the incorporation of rock, soul and gospel influenceswould seem to be incidental. Which is why reedman Michael Moore's repertory band is so unusual in the decades of Dylan coattail-riding.
American ex-pat Moore is a longtime member and key voice in Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra. He has also released a half-dozen-plus discs of his own projects on his Ramboy label and several for other labels (including the excellent Monitor on Between the Lines). His first recording with Jewels & Binoculars (issued in 2000 and recently reissued on Ramboy) was an unexpected interpretation of Dylan songs: a reed trio (with bassist Lindsey Horner and drummer Michael Vachter) slowly circling the simple melodies. The second release doesn't add anything to the formula, but it doesn't need to, either. One could easily imagine a rollicking "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" or a slowly burning "Gotta Serve Somebody," but Moore tends toward the ballads, often lesser-known tracks. The melodies are spare and so sneak up.
Despite the source, Floater is essentially a jazz record, if not so overtly as the first record by Moore's White Widow quartet. The group (with pianist Alex Maguire, bassist Mark Helias and ICP drummer Han Bennink) plays sweetly and deeply in the tradition, Bennink's unmistakable brushwork setting an easy pace throughout. While only one of the ten tracks is actually a standard (Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy"), all of the pieces could be. They play with the lazy lyricism of an old Lester Young or Ben Webster side.
While the Monk-fueled mania of Bennink and Mengelberg has come to dominate the perceptions of Dutch jazz, they hardly typify the variety of projects coming out of Amsterdam. Jewels & Binoculars and White Widow are just two bands that draw from a love of American jazz, without the camp.
Tracks: 1. Masters of War (4:54); 2. Man in the Long Black Coat (8:14); 3. Farewell Angelina/What Can I Do For You? (7:01); 4. I Want You (3:29); 5. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (4:23); 6. All I Really Want To Do (7:03); 7. Things Have Changed (6:12); 8. Floater (Too Much to Ask) (5:24); 9. Tears of Rage (6:00); 10. Buckets of Rain (5:06); 11. Lay Down Your Weary Tune (2:10).
Personnel: Michael Moore:alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, melodica, bells; Lindsey Horner: bass; Michael Vatcher: percussion.
Tracks: 1. Moffat (4:21); 2. Manuel's Party (7:09); 3. Coyote (4:18); 4. White Widow (7:00); 5. Aspatria (3:57); 6. Codiphile (6:05); 7. I Loves You, Porgy (7:07); 8. Leave Me Alone (5:28); 9. Peabody (8:55); 10. Parma Suite: Ham, Cheese, Parma Violets (12:14).
Personnel: Han Bennink: Drums; Mark Helias: Bass; Alex Maguire: Piano; Michael Moore: Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Alto Sax.