Blue Note Records
Pianist and bandleader Jason Moran’s exceptional trio the Bandwagon marks its first decade on Ten, which is the pianist’s first CD in more than four years. It’s also a release that explores multiple contexts and situations rather than relying on or spotlighting a central theme. Moran is equally accomplished interpreting works, writing tunes or collaborating with others, and this latest session highlights his proficiency in each area.
His version of Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie” nicely illuminates the original’s sentimental melody, while offering a rigorous and memorable personal touch courtesy of the pianist’s supple improvisations and the impressive backing of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. The ensemble also nicely reworks Jaki Byard’s “To Bob Vatel of Paris,” keeping the striding feel and elegant Byard touches yet still featuring ample Moran harmonic twists and rhythm section contrasts. Moran’s versatility in terms of source material is also evident in the treatments of Conlon Nancarrow’s “Study No. 6” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Big Stuff.” Neither is exactly the type of catchy melodic or arresting rhythmic piece that immediately attracts fans, but both become memorable tunes through Moran’s facility.
Still, it’s Moran’s pieces that prove most striking on Ten, particularly the opening work “Blue Blocks” and “Play to Live,” a composition Moran co-wrote with the great Andrew Hill. The former has an array of swirling chords and beautifully phrased middle and concluding sections, while the latter represents the Bandwagon at its best, with each member’s work fused into a moving and anthemic whole. Yet each member also gets the opportunity at some point within the work to showcase his particular strengths, from Moran’s teeming flurries and pacing to Mateen’s tone and Watts’ rhythmic diversity and control. The probing “RFK in the Land of Apartheid,” a tune that is part of the soundtrack for a film, has a somber opening section before it evolves into a stronger, more rousing work, while “Feedback Pt. 2” pays homage to Jimi Hendrix’s novel uses of sonic noise at Monterey Pop. The concluding “Old Babies” celebrates fatherhood and marriage in a way that is soothing without becoming sappy.
Moran and the Bandwagon epitomize the willingness of many 21st-century jazz musicians to tap any and all boundaries without worry or concern that audiences won’t appreciate their stylistic boldness. But what the band delivers on Ten is easy to love.