Charnett Moffett: Improvisational Artistry

R.J. DeLuke By

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"I enjoy all of the music, just as I enjoy different aspects of color in paintings, or different people, or different types of food, or things of that nature. For me, it seems to be a more interesting way of life to have an appreciation for all that is offered on the planet."

Charnett Moffett

With that simple statement, bassist Charnett Moffett says a lot about his career in music that began as young a child, and was pretty much inevitable from the moment he appeared on the planet in 1967, as the son of drummer Charles Moffett. He started playing drums at age two, and then investigated the trumpet before he eventually found his hands around an upright bass, performing with the Moffett Family Band, led by his dad, that included brother Cody Moffett (Cody) also on drums, brother Mondre on trumpet and brother Charles, Jr. on sax. Bass chores were handled by Patrick McCarthy and young Charnett on a half-sized bass.

He toured Japan at the age of seven with the family band and roughly a decade later was in the employ of Wynton Marsalis. He's since spent years playing all kinds of improvised music, moving from the mainstream lodgings of Marsalis to under the aegis of the free-spirited Ornette Coleman. He's recorded over the years with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Stanley Jordan, Pharoah Sanders, Wallace Roney and Joshua Redman. Though improvisational is at the base of his musical explorations, his music influences and tastes are broad. That can be seen in his albums, from his 1987 debut on Blue Note records, Beauty Within, right up to his current recording, The Art of Improvisation (Motema, 2009), his tenth as a leader.

"It's just about being honest with yourself," says Moffett. "I've been saying the same thing for years now. I haven't changed my philosophy much, but the music keeps changing based on the creative idea that I wish to share with my audience."

"The Art of Improvisation is an album inspired by my improvisational experiences in the last 26 years. I wanted to bring improvisation to the forefront of the album. We have found that's where the artist can be most expressive and also have others to share their ideas freely as well," says Moffett. It has Eastern influences throughout, most obviously the duet, "Call for Peace," with duet Tibetan vocalist Yun Chen Lhamo. But there are also other traces of it in the album.

"The interesting thing about being a musician is realizing that if you look for the simplicity and the connection of sound and notes ... there's really not that much difference. There's only 12 notes in the diatonic system. I wanted to figure out how many different ways I could connect sounds from the West with the East and everything in between there, and doing it in an improvisational way from the root of jazz. Jazz music is so expressive that it allows you all these possibilities to play any way you really wish to if you set up a formula that has these rules that are engaged."

Moffett plays upright bass, fretless electric bass guitar and piccolo bass, and does so with a combination of musicians including drummers Will Calhoun and Eric McPherson, keyboardist Scott Brown, guitarists Pat Jones and Steve Barnes and trumpeter Robert Joseph Avalon. Angela Moffett recites the words of poet Langston Hughes on "Dreams." His son, Charnett Max Moffett, is showcased on "Swing Rock" and a few other tunes, notably the Jimi Hendrix-inspired interpretation of "The Star Spangled Banner."

The tunes are largely split among trios, duets and solo bass playing. But "Dreams" is a dynamic large group effort, a free-form piece influenced by his association with Ornette Coleman. (His father was Coleman's drummer for a time, and Charnett's name comes from a hybrid of his father's first name, Charles, and Ornette.)

Says Moffett, "The names came to me naturally. It wasn't any theme more than that. But it's nice to have dreams. It's nice to live in America. And it's nice to see other aspects and cultures of the world and appreciate their value, gifts and contribution to society as well.

"I played with Ornette for nine years. It was an incredible experience. It was before I played with McCoy Tyner for almost seven years. Then I went back and played with Ornette for another year. After leaving Ornette to promote my own music, it was kind of full circle for me. It reminded me of how I started music with the Moffett Family Band. Playing with my dad, my brothers, two drummers. 'Dreams' does have two drummers: Max Moffett my son, and Eric McPherson. The message about 'Dreams' was inspired by being an American, which I am glad to say. That's also the whole inspiration behind 'The Star Spangled Banner,' besides being a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, and finding those influences between someone like that and Ravi Shankar, for example. It's really all connected.

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