While most jazz artists, even the great ones, tend to stick to the tried and true, Jason Moran has risen to the upper echelon of the jazz world by constantly challenging his audience. Listeners never really know what to expect from the 31-year-old pianist except that it's going to be fresh, intellectually rigorous, exceedingly of-the-moment music drawn from a variety of unanticipated sources.
His latest release, a followup to last year's blues-inspired Same Mother, is no exception. This time, Moran looks beyond the jazz tradition, and even the hip-hop he's integrated into his music in the past, to the wider world of art. The album is based on a series of commissions Moran worked on over the past year, including collaborations with visual and theater artists.
The range of musical and non-musical influences here, often within a single composition, is impressive. On the opener, the rousing "Breakdown, Moran places a brief sample of ruminations by conceptual artist Adrian Piper over a breakbeat laid down by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. That's followed by "Milestone, a haunting art song written by Moran's wife, soprano Alicia Hall Moran, and featuring her exquisite vocals.
A duet of Moran and the pioneering video and performance artist Joan Jonas is among the album's strongest performances; Jonas plays an array of odd percussion instruments. Piper is heard again and at greater length on "Artists Ought to be Writing, a provocative, though somewhat pedantic, reflection on the role of the artist in contemporary society. In a somewhat more mainstream vein, an expanded Bandwagon lineup is heard on the stirring composition "Rain, a Jazz at Lincoln Center commission inspired by the "ring shout from the era of slavery. That tune is paired with a deep blues take on "Lift Every Voice, the song that became known as the black national anthem during the civil rights movement.
Not all of this material works, and some compositions suffer from the absence of their intended visual and theatrical counterparts. But it's certainly thought-provoking, and there's no questioning the musicianship and improvisatory skills involved. To hear the pulse of modern jazz right nowand maybe learn where it's headedkeep your ears tuned to Moran.
Break Down; Milestone; Refraction 2; Cradle Song; Artists Ought to Be Writing; Refraction 1;
Arizona Landscape; Rain; Lift Every Voice; He Puts on His Coat and Leaves.
Jason Moran: piano; Tarus Mateen: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Marvin
Sewell: guitar; Alica Hall Moran: vocals; Abdou M'boup: African drums; Joan Jonas:
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