The fact that John Moulder is one of the most capable mainstream guitarists in jazz is a fairly well-kept secret outside of Chicago, where he regularly gigs, teaches (at Northwestern and Roosevelt universities), and makes fine records. For unclear reasons, jazz musicians who stay in Chicago and don’t move to New York often have more trouble getting on the national radar than those from cities like Los Angeles and Boston. Chicago is its own scene.
Decade: Memoirs is a polished, intelligent album. Moulder’s chops enable him to sound unhurried and relaxed even when he rocks out, as on “One Last Call.” The other members of his sextet are either Chicagoans (bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Paul Wertico, percussionist Ernie Adams) or British (pianist Gwilym Simcock, saxophonist Tim Garland). An interesting side note is how three players here bracket the career of Pat Metheny: Rodby and Wertico early, Simcock late. It’s easy to hear why both Moulder and Metheny like Simcock’s lyrically lush yet incisive piano. On the last track, “Gregory’s Hymn,” an acoustic guitar/piano duet, Simcock haltingly grasps for and finds emotional truth.
Moulder pays attention to how to shape and pace an album statement. The program starts fast and hard, with “Memoirs by the Sea Part 1,” and on the way to the pensive final resolution of “Gregory’s Hymn,” there are many variations of color, texture, tempo, and mood. Moulder composed all the tunes; whether they prioritize luminous melody (“About Us,” “Remembrance”) or rhythmic intensity (“African Sunset”), they are all well-made.
Two minor caveats: First, Garland, on soprano saxophone, is a squealer, not a singer. Second, there must be more to know about this personal-seeming collection of musical memoirs and eulogies, recorded over nine years, but the minimal liner notes never give us the backstory.