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Diane Moser: Birdsongs

Troy Dostert By

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While she hasn't gotten quite the recognition she deserves, pianist/composer Diane Moser has steadily released a series of fine recordings over the last couple decades. Her 17-piece Composers Big Band recorded Live at Tierney's Tavern in 1999 (on the New Arts label), but she's also made some excellent smaller-group records, some of which have featured some pretty illustrious company, such as bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Gerry Hemingway and multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich—all of whom are featured on her superb quintet album from 2014, Music for the Last Flower (on Planet Arts). Regardless of the context, Moser brings an expertly-honed musical sensibility to all her composing and playing: one characterized by meticulous attention to detail and a strong lyrical voice. Moser always puts the beauty of the music first, and on Birdsongs, her gorgeous trio record with flute/piccolo player Anton Denner and bassist Ken Filiano, this is most certainly in evidence.

With a generous running time of well over 70 minutes, there's a lot of music here, all of it tied to the album's avian theme. The opening cut, "Birdsongs for Eric," illustrates the virtues of this trio splendidly. With a compelling melody articulated by all three players, including a fine turn by Filiano on arco bass, the piece surges with the intensity and lyricism that were the trademarks of Eric Dolphy, the track's dedicatee, who like Moser acknowledged his inspirational debt to birds and whose solos embodied the playful, sing-song quality of their communication. While Denner's flute doesn't imitate Dolphy's, it certainly shares its lively energy, combined with a tuneful essence that is ideal for Moser's music.

The remainder of the album is comprised of a lengthy suite, "MacDowell's Woodlands Suite," divided into two portions, with Kyle Pederson's "The (Un)Common Loon" provided as an interlude. The first part of the suite, "Morning and Afternoon," features the trio working its way through Moser's rich musical vision: one that is as equally attuned to delicacy and restraint as it is to grander gestures. "Hello" unfolds slowly, with a gentle dialogue between Filiano (once again on arco) and Moser which allows Denner to float over the top, before the music settles into an ostinato that gradually opens the melody to explorations from all three musicians. Like the rest of the album, the piece isn't ostentatious or aggressive; a deliberate, careful presentation is called for by the thoughtful architecture of Moser's compositional style. But this isn't to suggest that the proceedings ever become staid or uninvolving; there's simply too much excitement in the give-and-take of the trio on more upbeat pieces like "Dancin' with the Sparrows" or "If You'll Call Me, then I'll Call You" for that to happen. Each player takes ideas from the others and offers them back in return, with a close rapport that is wonderful to experience.

After the subtly swinging "The (Un)Common Loon," with Denner's impassioned solo arguably his most "birdlike" on the record, we are treated to the second section of the "Woodlands Suite," "Evening," where Moser offers three solo pieces. While these may not have quite the spark of the trio tracks, there's no denying their subtle grace and refinement. "Variations on 'A Hermit Thrush at Eve'" takes a composition by Amy Marcy Cheney Beach and filters it through Moser's creative prism, with the piece evolving from a pensive nocturne to a lilting Latin-inflected ballad that is both haunting and luminous. And the spare simplicity of "Folk Song" and "When Birds Dream" are perfect in bringing to a close a superlative, brilliantly- conceived recording.

Track Listing: Birdsongs for Eric; Hello; Dancin’ With The Sparrows; If You’ll Call Me, Then I’ll Call You; Won’t You Come Out To Play; The (Un)Common Loon; Variations On A Hermit Thrush At Eve; Folksong; When Birds Dream.

Personnel: Diane Moser: piano; Anton Denner: flute, piccolo; Ken Filiano: contrabass.

Title: Birdsongs | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Planet Arts Records

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