Drummer Bob Moses has been a ground-breaker in jazz for about thirty-five years. After gigging around New York as a vibraphonist in his teens, he formed the electric free-jazz group Free Spirits with guitarist Larry Coryell and Native American tenorist Jim Pepper. Later he worked as a sideman with many of New York’s finest jazzers: saxophonists Roland Kirk and Dave Liebman, vibraphonist Gary Burton, bandleaders Mike Gibbs and George Gruntz, drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Steve Swallow, and guitarists Pat Metheny and Emily Remler. He had an especially fruitful relationship with pianist Steve Kuhn and vocalist Sheila Jordan, as well as leading his own occasional sessions. Moses interweaves many ethnic elements into his music along with a fine jazz sensibility. That world-music flavoring is in ready evidence on this new disc, which is dedicated to the memory of his mother, Greta. The title is an African word meaning “beautiful soul”, a term that Mrs. Moses picked up during her many world travels.
Like the late, great Connie Kay (of the Modern Jazz Quartet), Moses can conform his drumming so appropriately to the mood that sometimes one forgets that drums are even being beaten. That is the hallmark of a truly excellent ensemble drummer, someone who offers intense musicality and foundation but doesn’t feel a need to dominate the show. Forget the flash of Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa; Bob Moses is one of the certifiable greats of jazz drumming. His performances here illustrate a deep understanding of rhythmic functionality and coloration that’s too rare in today’s scene, where simply smashing the kit into submission seems the order of the day.
The band he assembled forNishomaincludes several unfamiliar performers, among them Guadeloupian saxophonist Jacques Schwartz Bart, Bulgarian trumpeter Rossen Zahariev, vocalist Luciana Souza and reedman Scott Robinson. As this disc will testify, all these folks are remarkably talented and will hopefully reap good benefits from their association with Moses. Bart’s resume includes service with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and drummers Cindy Blackman and Giovanni Hidalgo. Zahariev’s playing is melodic and clear, and it’s obvious that he’s well-versed in trumpet techniques from bebop onward. I especially enjoyed his dark blowing on the blues-drenched track #8. The hornmen’s tones are comfortably jazzy but not derivative, their sense of swing impeccable. Souza possesses a classically Brazilian voice, warm in timbre and wide of range. The god-daughter of saxophonist Hermeto Pascoal, she adds a toasty lightness to three tracks with her resonant wordless vocals. Robinson shines on track #10, taking a marvelous bass clarinet solo. He also plays the oddball waterphone on #3, his splashes and burbles forming wild textures behind the melody. One unusual addition to the band’s personnel is tap dancer Jimmy Slyde, who performs on two tracks. On #4 Moses pounds out loud, simple syncopations to support Slyde while Robinson’s smoky bass clarinet skulks in and out of the shadows. On track #9, a short visit with a Thelonious Monk favorite, Zahariev joins that trio. His jungle-plunger trumpet adds an old-timey jazz feel to inspire Slyde’s flights of fancy. It’s a neat textural concept that works beautifully but isn’t overdone.
The more familiar performers also excel on this disc. Pianist Steve Kuhn crafts a rich tapestry in his solo intro to track #2, one of Moses’ most beautiful compositions. Bassist Chris Wood utilizes his unfailing tastefulness to good advantage, complementing or balancing Moses’ drumming at every turn. His discerning palate doesn’t always get the best workout in the confines of Medeski, Martin and Wood, so I always enjoy the chance to hear his vibrant bass playing in a different setting. Singer Abbey Lincoln guests on the closing track, an Irving Berlin chestnut that’s nicely reworked into a moody, empyreal gem here. Lincoln’s gifts as a singer have been the subject of debate for decades; some listeners feel her duskiness and iffy intonation detract from the music, others think her style injects a refreshingly personal touch into songs. I tend to ride the fence between those two viewpoints, depending upon the setting she’s in, but I really enjoyed her jazzy performance here.
As a tribute to a parent who’s passed on,Nishomais understandably heavy on ballads and sentimental melodies. However, the material is well-chosen and masterfully arranged, which keeps it from bogging down into maudlin groaning. The upbeat opener and tap-dance features add a spirit of fun to the session, making this disc a celebration of all life has to offer while it lasts.Nishomais one of Moses’ best, most consistently enjoyable efforts, and that’s saying something for a talent this powerful.
Personnel: Bob Moses, drums and percussion; Rossen Zahariev, trumpet and flugelhorn; Jacques Schwartz Bart, tenor saxophone; Steve Kuhn, piano; Chris Wood, bass; Scott Robinson, bass clarinet and waterphone; Jimmy Slyde, tap dancing on #4 and #9; Luciana Souza, vocals on #1, 2 and 5; Abbey Lincoln, vocals on #11.