Ras Moshe: Ras Moshe: Outsight

Florence Wetzel By

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Ras Moshe: Ras Moshe: Outsight
Outsight is a powerful release by multi-instrumentalist Ras Moshe, who is one of the mainstays of the New York City avant-free scene. The album was released by Straw2Gold Pictures, an eclectic organization that specializes in high-end sound production and has branched out with a record label. Straw2Gold's roster features a select group of artists, including guitarist Derek Bailey, poet John Sinclair, and guitarist-writer Eugene Chadbourne. Moshe certainly belongs in such illustrious company; he has devoted his life to keeping the new music new, and the fire music fiery, and it's good to see him getting his due.

This release was culled from three live NYC dates and contains a generous 78 minutes of music. The venues reflect the world that Moshe inhabits: the first cut is from University of the Streets, the four pieces comprising The Convergence Circle were performed at The Brecht Forum, and the final tune was recorded at Clemente Soto Velez, all settings that welcome musical innovation. The sound quality is superb, as one might expect given Straw2Gold's background, and the songs blend together to form a vibrant flow of imagination.

The album starts off with "I Hear You," a joyful, toe-tapping piece with Moshe on tenor, Tom Zlabinger on bass, and Lou Grassi on drums. Moshe favors long-form songs that give his sidemen abundant solo space, and after the pleasing melody statement, each musician offers an energetic solo that upholds the buoyant spirit of the tune. Although Moshe is fluent on several instruments, he plays tenor sax throughout the album, and it's a good choice—on this piece his tone is clear and chocolaty, his lines upbeat and conversational. There's a poetic bass solo from Zlabinger, whose thoughtfully miked bass adds a deep bottom to the music, and then a rollicking drum solo from Grassi, showcasing his gift for a swinging drive that veers easily into the free. "I Hear You" is a dynamic piece of music from a truly cohesive trio; it would be great to hear more of this configuration in the future.

The heart of the album is the four-part Convergence Circle, an ambitious and impressive suite that maintains a high level of artistry for close to 55 minutes. Here Moshe employs a sextet comprised of sax, trumpet/bass clarinet, guitar, cello, piano, and drums. There's nothing predictable about the structure of this work, yet it feels completely natural, as solos give way to duets, which turn into trios, which shape-shift into free-jazz blastings, which perhaps becomes a quartet. It's an organic unfolding that's full of good spirit; the circle grows and expands, with enough room for all the voices in this talented group. And despite Moshe's reputation as an avant-garde powerhouse, there's a spare quality to much of this music that's a bit reminiscent of another circle, the Miles Davis tune "Circle in the Round"; the spirit here is more positive than the boiling menace of Davis' work, but the feeling of economy is often similar, as is the way the music keeps the ears on high alert.

"Convergence Circle One" starts with a gorgeous cello solo from Daniel Levin. Moshe has made the interesting choice of using cello instead of bass for this suite, which adds an opulent dimension to the music. Then Moshe comes in for a duet, his sax rich and contemplative as Levin's strings shiver in the background. Eventually James Keepnews joins in on guitar, sending resonant fields chiming into the mix, then Matt Lavelle's trumpet enters to create a powerful front line. Moshe and Lavelle have been playing together for years, and it's always a pleasure to hear their deep connection. Things start to get a little wild as the other instruments mix in, but it's a spacious wildness, a simmering power that slowly emerges. Chris Forbes contributes a fabulous piano solo, a turbulent message that borders on frenzy, and Keepnews ends the tune with an immensely pleasurable guitar solo, full of swoops and pluckings and a wide range of unexpected sound-noises. The song is a bountiful, thoughtful unfolding, with each instrument naturally blending in as the music grows in power.

"Convergence Circle Two" begins with guitar, cello, and drums, creating an elegant trio that teeters on chaos. There's an unrest here, a delicious sense of something brewing. Moshe enters with some tuneful melody lines, his sax getting a nice gritty sound. The rest of the group joins in, including some extraordinary alien-speak comping by Keepnews, who adds such novel touches throughout the four pieces. Moshe's solo gets urgent, escalating the energy into stratospheric domains while holding to an essential melodicism. This gives way to a delicate guitar solo by Keepnews, a spacious language of chimings and curving notes, which becomes another memorable guitar and cello duet, as the guitar's sonic excursions are egged on by the quivering cello flights. And so the song ends as it began, coming full circle with guitar and cello.

"Convergence Circle Three" starts out with trumpet and drum, both speaking in an alert, questing fashion. Dave Miller provides tasteful accompaniment on drums, and Lavelle's trumpet is pleasingly crisp. Forbes joins in on piano, and the piece grows in intensity, with Lavelle's trumpet throwing out cries of urgency and Forbes playing off-kilter scales of rising power. It's another example of the range of conversations in this cycle, which keeps the music fresh and compelling. When Moshe's sax blasts in, he and Lavelle create an inverted call-and-response. Moshe's sax is wonderfully lyrical—his tone is true, and his lines bold and conversational—but he also employs a gritty feel that's highly enjoyable. As always there are nice touches from Keepnews, who inserts delectable bits of unanticipated sound. There's a propelling swing in the tune as well, driven by the powerful rhythmic engine of cello and drums. Another vigorous piano solo thrusts the music forward, and the piece ends with an escalating energy that culminates with a satisfying thump.

"Convergence Circle Four" starts with a terrific drum and guitar duet, the ambient vibe again reminiscent of "Circle in the Round." A drum solo then morphs into a cello solo; it's great to hear this special instrument given so much space, and to witness it played with such marvelous freedom. The cello creates a simmering spaciousness that's pregnant with anticipation, then gets warped and dissonant before cutting into silence. The bass clarinet and guitar break into the space, with Lavelle reaching deep into the clarinet's belly to weave a glorious web of lines. When Moshe joins in, he and Lavelle start to joust, delving into the wild free-jazz space they both know so well. The sextet takes the music out and about for a dynamic crescendo, then the energy decompresses, slowing down and gradually breaking apart into silence and space. Thus ends Moshe's Convergence Circle suite, a tremendously impressive work of sustained imagination and creativity. There's room for everything on these songs; the circle is wide and welcoming, and no one is left out. It's a noteworthy achievement that speaks to Moshe's ripening maturity and decades of hard work.

The final track is the majestic "Meditation for David S. Ware." The innovative saxophonist died in 2012 at age 63, and Moshe dedicated this piece to Ware during his final illness. The tune clearly invokes Ware, who was renowned for his profound religious calling, but Moshe's tenor and its plaintive spirituality also echo John Coltrane, a central figure in Moshe's musical universe. In addition to the emotional imperative here, the song is notable for its unusual configuration of sax and three strings: Moshe's sax is joined by Levin on cello and Zlabinger and Max Johnson on bass. Moshe is at his thoughtful, lyrical best here; his lines are strong and sinuous, his playing poignant and often downright pretty. Levin's cello is also gorgeous, his bowing particularly strong and sumptuous. "Meditation" is a striking piece of music, a combination of sorrow and strength that's a fine tribute to a modern master.

Outsight is a generous offering of Moshe's talents and a splendid example of joyful creativity. This is not to say that the music is always cheerful, or that it avoids dipping into dark energies, but there's a warm spirit of enthusiasm throughout, an elated flow that makes this recording special. Each musician enters the circle with their unique background, and while remaining true to their own voices they combine to develop something even larger. This is beautiful music, honest and free and well worth exploring.

Track Listing

I Hear You; Convergence Circle One; Convergence Circle Two; Convergence Circle Three; Convergence Circle Four; Meditation for David S. Ware.


Ras Moshe: tenor saxophone; Lou Grassi: drums (1); Tom Zlabinger: bass (1, 6); Matt Lavelle: trumpet, bass clarinet (2–5); Chris Forbes: piano (2–5); James Keepnews: guitar (2–5); Daniel Levin: cello (2–6); Dave Miller: drums (2–5); Max Johnson: bass (6).

Album information

Title: Ras Moshe: Outsight | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Straw2Gold Pictures

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