Jason Moran is among a handful of modern pianists whose work often demands a listen as soon as it's released, since most other players will be trying to imitate it tomorrow. He doesn't quite meet those expectations on Same Mother, an album heavy on blues and soundtrack elements that represents his sixth project as a leader. Partially this is his emphasis on a classic down-home Texas feel, but there's also a sense of a highly tuned engine coasting at a "mere'" 80 mph instead of passing the crowd at nefarious speeds.
He opens letting his left hand dominate with a rumbling bottom end on "Gangsterism On The Rise,'" the latest in a series of "Gangsterism'" songs dedicated to the Godfather movies. But neither the low end nor his sparse contrasting right-hand scream definitive statement. "Jump Up'" is a rock/blues jam introducing guitarist Marvin Sewell, the first guitarist Moran has recorded with as a leader. His electric lines are straightforward against some slightly off-the-meter work by Moran's longtime trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, and Moran kicks in with some pounding toward the end that is so over-the-top it's almost comedic. But again, the revolution isn't at hand.
Lower-key compositions make up the album's best and flattest moments. Among the latter is "Aubade,'" a piano/guitar ballad resembling something GRP artists like David Benoit or Lee Ritenour would crank out on a good day. The subsequent "G Suit Salutation'" is much more capable, with an understated intensity building challengingly to the end as blues are fused with a variety of traditional and freer jazz styles.
The album goes to the next level toward the end, beginning with an alternating three- and four-beat swing mix on "Fire Waltz,'" with plucky and yet somewhat somber lines from Moran and Mateen. The underlying moodiness serves as a transition to "Field Of The Dead,'" where Moran's thick intensity and Mateen's rapid pickings across the range of his fretboard strive to capture the soundtrack of a woman looking for her fiancé among fallen soldiers. It's so complicated the tale can and should be envisioned through the notes alone; if this occurs against a visual backdrop, then both are too dilute for appreciation.
The mood remains for the album's duration, but the pace picks up with a final "Gangsterism On The Set,'" maybe just to leave the listener somewhat near the start of the journey.
Same Mother contains enough of a traditional and modern fusion of blues to make it worth hearing, especially for Moran fans who will also appreciate Sewell's change-of-space contribution. Those new to Moran not finding it quite up to hype may gain a better appreciation for his talentand hear this more respectfullyafter listening to 2002's solo Modernistic or 2003's live The Bandwagon.
Track Listing: 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.
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