Ships with Tattooed Sails
Reedman Michael Moore and drummer Michael Vatcher, American expatriate jazz musicians who have been living in Amsterdam for the past 20-plus years, joined with New York bassist Lindsey Horner in the late ’90s to form Jewels and Binoculars, a cooperative band born out of their mutual love of Bob Dylan’s music. On their third outing, the three kindred spirits stretch out on a dozen Dylan tunes. Special guest guitarist Bill Frisell appears on three tracks.
The remarkable unsung talent Moore, a member of Clusone 3 and a longtime collaborator with pianist Misha Mengelberg, shines on several tracks here. A marvel on bass clarinet, Moore’s intonation is flawless throughout the full range of the unwieldy instrument, as he demonstrates with an expressive, flowing solo on Dylan’s haunting requiem “Blind Willie McTell” and with some heartfelt testifying on the melancholy dirge “Gates of Eden,” both of which are underscored by Frisell’s atmospheric guitar loops and backwards effects. Frisell also provides jangly, open-string comping and deft counterpoint lines to Moore’s soaring alto sax on a jazzy arrangement of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” On the hymnlike “I Believe in You,” Moore plays his alto with sweet, poignant tones before heading into the free zone at the peak of a wailing solo, and he shows a fondness for playing clarinet in the lower register on “Jack-a-Roe,” a traditional British folk song recorded by Dylan, Joan Baez and the Grateful Dead.
Vatcher, who in the late ’80s supplied the throbbing pulse behind John Zorn’s notorious hardcore band Spy vs. Spy, lays down a slamming backbeat on a frantic rendition of “Father of Night” before unleashing an intense unaccompanied solo on the kit. On the other side of the dynamic spectrum, he shows a deft touch with brushes on the gentle “I Believe in You,” the closing lullaby “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” featuring Moore blowing sweetly on bass clarinet, and the swinging “It’s Alright Ma.”
Bassist Horner provides deep-toned fundamental support and interactive lines throughout, lending a bounce to a straightforward reading of the simple folk melody “If You See Her, Say Hello” and walking insistently on a midtempo, swinging rendition of “Spirit on the Water.” He turns in melodic solos on “I Believe in You” and the blues-soaked “Cold Irons Bound.” These three players turn in remarkable interplay and adventurous twists on familiar themes.