Short Stories is burnished by generosity and gratitude. Covering more than two hours of music over two discs and 15 songs, it chronicles a chapter in drummer/educator Tony Moreno’s life after he’d lost his studio, his instruments and a valuable trove of archival material he and his mother, the noted harpist and musicologist Nina Dunkel Moreno, had amassed—wiped away by the October 2012 landfall of Hurricane Sandy. Offered a monthly gig at the small 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, Moreno plunged into renewal, developing a book mostly containing original material and workshopping it with a stable quintet over a four-year period, all while holding down teaching gigs at three separate college programs in New York. Short Stories pays tribute to the mentors and good Samaritans who made it possible. Trusting the process, Moreno encouraged his band to stretch out, utilizing a majority of first takes in the studio and issuing nearly the entire repertoire. “I had to clean the slate and move on,” he explains.
There is a wealth of touchstones. Each disc leads off with a shape-shifting Kenny Wheeler composition—“Foxy Trot” and “Three for D’Reen,” respectively. While both allow the quintet to glide from the reflection of Jean-Michel Pilc’s opening piano into unison horn lines and extended solos from trumpeter Ron Horton and tenor Marc Mommaas, “Foxy” features an extended-note blast from Mommaas and some blues-scraping pyrotechnics from Moreno and bassist Ugonna Okegwo. “55 Scotch” tips one to the 55 Bar owners via vintage hard bop, blazing with a rapidly passed round of solos. “Susan’s Dream” is an ethereal ode to Moreno’s wife, with a warm, impressionistic vibe enhanced by the exquisite woodwork of Okegwo’s bass tone.
There is a song called “Erroll Garner,” specific shout-outs to guitarist Miles Okazaki (“M.O.”) and pianist Ketil Bjørnstad (“Pueblo De Lagrimas”) and, on two different takes of “El Rey,” homages to Elvin Jones and his manager-wife, Keiko. Jones (whose middle name was Ray) was a father figure who gave Moreno his first drum set at age 10, then taught him for seven years. You hear Jones all over Short Stories, in the way Moreno dramatizes the tension-and-release of riffs and vamps with his low-simmer use of toms and snares and his loud cymbal crescendos. Mainstream jazz is in good hands here.