Mose Allison is amazing. The pianist/singer/songwriter has now been plying his craft for 50 years, and this first volume of The Mose Chronicles, which documents a January 2000 trio gig in London, shows no diminution of his powers.
Start with his piano playing: His ambling runs on “Entruption,” which opens the disc, have the suave rhythmic sophistication of Erik Satie’s piano music, while his harmonic palette is that of a pianist who revels in the joy of his instrument’s tone. His solo on a reharmonized “You Are My Sunshine,” which alludes to both Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, is a minor-key excursion that traverses so much territory, one is reminded of the startling George Russell/Sheila Jordan version of the tune that turned heads several decades ago. “I’m Not Talking,” a hit for the Yardbirds in the late 1960’s British Invasion glory years, shows how Allison’s deep feeling for the blues informs everything he plays, his expressive economy of means coloring the tune with hues and echoes that resonate long after its three minutes are over.
As a singer, Allison is the essence of amiability. Never possessed of a great vocal range, he learned early on that it doesn’t take technique to communicate emotion; check his version of “Since I Fell For You,” a song that has fuelled the pipes of many a pop vocalist bent on spectacularly mining its long phrases and blue notes. Allison distills its intimate love/hate message into an almost staccato reading that gets in and gets out, no questions, no apologies, no prisoners taken except the singer himself, the victim of love.
Mose the songwriter is inextricably tied to Mose the pianist and singer. Like the short stories of Raymond Carver or Joyce Carol Oates, his wry, irony-laced lyrics speak of the disillusion (“Getting’ There”), fantasy (“What’s Your Movie”) and frustrations (“If You Only Knew”) common to us all. Steeped as much in Tin Pan Alley as they are in the blues, they come vibrantly alive when his fingers hit the keys, and his voice reaches for their notes. If you don’t know the man yet, start here.
Personnel: Mose Allison - piano; Roy Babbington - bass; Mark Taylor - drums.