Contrary to popular opinion, the blues transcends structured musical form. Rather, it is a feeling that imbues, a deep and dark sense of despair that pervades. Regardless of the context, there was always something distinctly blue about the way Miles Davis approached every phrase. Similarly, while his music in no way relates to conventional blues form, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's work has a certain melancholy that gives it a distinctly blue feeling. All that just goes to show that, contrary to popular misconception, the essence of the blues is not unequivocally linked to the black experience.
On the other hand, pianist Jason Moran and his longstanding trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits do come from the black experience. Yet as much as their playing has traditional precedents rooted in everything from New Orleans swagger to post bop, they are equally informed by neoclassical leanings and an impressionism that could only come through the study of European composers. So, when Moran chooses to do an album that is rooted in the blues, as Same Mother clearly is, the result is something different than one might expect. On the other hand, with the idiosyncratic Moran, that should come as no surprise.
There are moments where Moran and his trio, supplemented this time out by Marvin Sewell on acoustic and electric guitars, delve deeply into more traditional form. "I'll Play the Blues for You"? may begin like something out of a barrelhouse, but within sixty seconds Moran's quirky and off-kilter style starts to take things away from the norm. And by the second minute, Mateen and Waits, while maintaining some semblance of groove, are also beginning to liberally interject more oblique ideas. By minute four, while they loosely adhere to form, there's a stronger element of chaos interspersed with quieter moments of normalcy. When thinking of the blues, Moran and the group clearly have a different concept.
Moran finds blues in the most unlikely of places. By interpreting Prokofiev's "Field of the Dead"? from Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky , where a woman is walking through the remains of a battlefield looking for two friends, Moran extends the concept of tragedy and suffering beyond the black experience and into a broader cosmopolitanism, even while Sewell's acoustic slide guitar roots the chaotic proceedings, dwelling for occasional moments in a strange lyricism, in the Mississippi Delta.
Moran's own "Restin'"? seems to come from the same barren Texas landscape as Ry Cooder's soundtrack to the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. A similar sense of desolation suffuses this piece as the group aims more for ambience than musical statement.
Same Mother works because it presents a different view of a long-revered tradition. Mind you, that's a description that could easily apply to Moran's entire career thus far. Still on the young side of thirty, Moran has assimilated influences as diverse as Jaki Byard and hip hop into a distinctly personal vernacular, with Same Mother merely adding another voice to the mix.
Visit Jason Moran on the web.
Gangsterism on the Rise; Jump Up; Aubade; G Suit Saltation; I'll Play the Blues for You; Fire Waltz; Field of the Dead; Restin'; The Field; Gangsterism on the Set.