Without a doubt, Jason Moran is now at the forefront of so-called modern jazz. While he has his share of detractors, his stature is certainly deserved. Possessed with a fearless technique, an impressive pedigree (both in terms of his mentors and his former employers), a striking compositional style and adventurousness within the conventional framework of the piano trio, Moran’s future is secure. On each successive release, beginning with Soundtrack to Human Motion
, Moran has sought to make his recordings both unique and compelling, presented in a way that only JaMo can deliver.
Thus, it is interesting that The Bandwagon would seem to be a bit of a step backwards, i.e. “the live record recorded at a New York club” (a chance for the cynics to unite). Happily, this is not the case. Recorded over a six day run at New York’s venerable Village Vanguard, Moran, in the company of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, contributes a program of impressive originals and inventive recreations. To add to the “controversy,” Moran and his cohorts experiment with pre-recorded sounds (traditionalists be damned) that will surely divide listeners and critics alike. Further, bassist Mateen uses a hybrid instrument, termed the “acoustic electric bass,” that adds a rather non-conventional sound to the trio’s palette.
After a brief looped introduction of the band (a DJ saying “bandwagon” over a hip hop beat), the trio hits the ground running with the electrifying “Another One.” The initial freeish, slippery runs evolve into a furious swing performance with a percolating sense of time guaranteed to keep listeners on their toes. Equally wonderful are the two “sample-ridden” pieces where the trio utilizes loops as essentially, another instrument. On “Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul),” Moran tiptoes around a Turkish woman’s phone conversation that eventually becomes a frisky group interchange. Likewise, on “Infospace,” a woman delivers a Chinese stock report that allows Moran to use the speaker’s percussive delivery as a catalyst for his and the rest of the trio’s sonic dances. Also worth noting are the readings of Jaki Byard’s “Out Front,” an exhilarating synthesis of old and new and the ruminating “Body & Soul.”
Fervent interactions aren’t the only game in town, as Moran & Co. reveal their equal proficiency on quieter pieces. For instance, Brahms’ “Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2,” is a lovely ballad that while true to the original melodies, is creative in its own right. The most compelling track is Moran’s “Gentle Sifts South,” a solo piano interlude that contains samples of his grandparents discussing family history, under which he concocts undulating waves of fragile, pensive lines.
Finally, what would a Moran disc be without his theme song, a recasting of Andrew Hill’s “Erato,” now known as part of the “Gangsterism” series. This time it's “Gangsterism on Canvas,” first heard on his debut, a propulsive, polyrhythmic fantasy that adds another notch to Moran’s “Gangsterism” belt.
This release captures a remarkably creative Moran on his continuing journey, fusing the lessons of the past with a bright future outlook. He is one of those rare artists where one anxiously awaits his next move. It does seem a safe bet, though, that whatever he’s got up his sleeve for the next round will surely be worth the wait.