Field Notes: Moran, Holland & DeJohnette in NYC

The Charlie Parker fest closes with a smart, powerful all-star set

From left: Jason Moran, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland perform in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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Jack DeJohnette performs in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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Jason Moran performs in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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From left: Jason Moran, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette perform in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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From left: Jason Moran, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette perform in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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Jack DeJohnette performs in the closing concert of the 2016 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York City on Aug. 28
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Like the bebop architect that gives the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival its name, there is something profoundly, quintessentially New York about the annual admission-free August event. The multi-day fest deftly employs the city’s world-renowned local resources, but there’s also a brand of interest and empathy in the audience that seems singular. An illustration of this occurred last Sunday, as the festival came to a close in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s East Village. Headlining the day was a very special trio featuring pianist Jason Moran, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette-a jazz band with a capital J, not a unit to entice passersby necessarily, or appease a chatty summertime crowd. The huddled audience spread around both sides of the stage riser, and remained rapt for the duration of the hour. I stood toward stage right, about 40 feet back, and despite a handful of early-exiters, an ambulance siren and a few nearby student musicians whispering cogent commentary to each other, I could home in with ease. I’ve seen more distracted houses at Carnegie Hall. Could you find this sort of respect for left-center jazz on the street in other cities? Probably, but something about the scene felt reserved for the modern-jazz capital.

As for the set, the quiet and focus were rewarded. This was a satisfying one-off, an hour exhibiting striking equilibrium: smartly chosen tunes immersed in collective improvisation that oscillated from grooving to way out; long, undistracted solo opportunities emerging from deep ensemble interplay; a truly cooperative, leaderless group energy. In the way of strategy-specifically, how recognizable themes would rise out of the morass, then dissipate, then return-you couldn’t help but be reminded of Wayne Shorter’s current quartet, or Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, or the trumpeter’s Lost Quintet with Shorter, Holland, DeJohnette and Chick Corea.

First, following an atmosphere-setting introduction, there was Holland’s beautiful melody “Four Winds,” off Conference of the Birds, with its twisty optimism like a meld of fusion-era postbop and Aaron Copland. Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara” was properly, respectfully announced by Moran, and given a treatment that balanced the trio’s progressiveness with the tune’s jazz-funk origins. Already on Rhodes, Moran began dousing his sound in echo and sustain, eventually sounding the theme to “Caravan,” which he carried back to acoustic piano and into a marathon rendition that DeJohnette staked down with Afro-Cuban swing. Moran’s attack was Ellington by way of Jaki Byard (which means, in a roundabout fashion, by way of Jason Moran); the maestro’s “Fleurette Africaine” also peeked out of the exploratory density, a second nod to Money Jungle, a sacred text for all of jazz but more specifically for piano trios attempting to experiment within tradition. The final 15-plus minutes were dedicated to the third movement in McCoy Tyner’s “Enlightenment Suite,” the thrusting “Inner Glimpse,” which Moran played with the near-reckless enthusiasm the tune’s composer has performed it with; in that gritty, gorgeous McCoy Trio way, the band seemed at points treacherously close to becoming unhinged. But as thrilling as the group highlights were, the solo spots could pull you in even sooner-especially those by Holland, one of the rare musicians to justify the extended bass solo, through his assured, athletic technique and spontaneously drawn melodies that betray his gifts as a composer. DeJohnette’s polyrhythmic mastery here made his drum solos deliciously intellectual mini-performances, and the same went for the hi-hat work he used to support Holland’s leads. For this band, every detail contained multitudes.