Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lasting Value: Jason Moran Trio's Ten

On Ten, Jason Moran's trio works the music with cohesion and commitment. Like Keith Jarrett's group, with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, Moran's music takes you on an imaginary excursion and returns you safely to home. Their kind of symbiosis, if you will, can usually take years of playing in order to perfect. But they are now inheriting the kind of experience that Jarrett's trio has been earning since the early 1980s.

For Jason Moran, Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits, the unity is almost fully developed which comes as a surprise considering the leader’s age of 35 years. But the band has had 10 years honing their chops playing together, off and on, since the release of their Moran's second record, Facing Left (2000).

Ten offers a mix of original music and a couple pulled from the jazz songbook. "Crepuscule with Nellie" is one of Thelonious Monk's most eloquent ballads dedicated to his wife. It's not intended to be a tune a band can riff on; it's meant to be played straight without soloing. But this trio has the skill to change the song anyway they like and they succeed. It's a very bold interpretation of the music, but it works because of the great inter-play by the band and Moran's arrangement. It's still Monk but with a little extra.

“Play to Live” is a particularly interesting track because of the interplay between Moran and Tarus Mateen on bass. It sounds like a musical conversation as one instrument supports or nods its head in response to what the other is saying. It was co-written by Moran and his tutor, Andrew Hill. Clearly, the student heard the master and created his own work of art. It's a beautiful number and no less so than the follow up, "The Subtle One," a ballad written by bassist, Mateen. On this number, the music opens up opportunities for improvisation based on a simple form. I really like the touch of the trio on this track: light, attentive, inventive and, of course, subtle.

Jaki Byard's "The Bob Vatel of Paris" shows off Moran's stride piano styling, but it gets better when the trio breaks into a fast improvisation sending the music and listener into orbit. Moran is a musician unafraid to take risks and that's the fundamental to the art of jazz. Ten speaks volumes about what’s possible in jazz rather than being nostalgic. Moran’s thoughtful approach to music offers a fresh presentation of the trio format, one that will last for decades.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, writer and theatre director.

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