Tuesday, August 08, 2006


It's serendipitous that Francis Davis should say that Bill Evans was the jazz musician he "identified" with, because over the last few days I've been thinking the same of Jason Moran. That doesn't mean that he's my very favourite, but simply that his public persona and his music are the closest thing to an idealised mirror of myself: perfect-son-in-law looks and demeanour, well-educated, great eyebrows and his music is left-of-center without being left-field. Mingus and Monk are too out there as personalities for me, Miles too... Miles, Coltrane too intense, Duke Ellington too old school and (to take someone else around my age that I've been listening to of late) Robert Glasper too conventional. It helps him that I'm more drawn (in the self-identification sweepstakes) towards pianists, having taken piano lessons in the past.

I've been listening to Moran a fair amount lately. I have his last four albums and a couple with Greg Osby (Banned In New York and Symbols of Light (A Solution)), but am missing his first two. His live album received a luke-warm reaction, if I remember correctly, but I like it a lot. "Gentle Shifts South," which layers fragments of friends' and families' conversation and anecdotes over a very gentle ballad, eases the music out of the social void jazz too often takes place in. It's interesting that the studio version on Modernistic is purely instrumental, while the live version uses samples, as that's still rare in a traditional acoustic jazz setting. "Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul)" makes different use of the human voice by deriving its twisty, start-stop melody from a recording of a woman speaking Turkish. When a one-bar loop is extracted from the conversation, the song becomes irresistable.

"Out Front" and "Planet Rock" are both the kind of romps Moran is becoming a master of (cf. "You've Got To Be Modernistic," "Jump Up" and "I'll Play The Blues For You"). Further, connecting Jaki Byard to Afrika Bambaata is particularly astute. The solo version on Modernistic starts anemically and gets better as it goes along, especially when the reversed sounds come in, but the live trio version makes sense right from the beginning. Just yesterday, I discovered Albert King's version of "I'll Play The Blues For You" and Moran's doesn't suffer for the comparaison. Jazz covers of soul and hip hop often end up sappy, but Moran consistently avoids that trap.

Then, there's Black Stars, which may end up having the same relationship to the rest of Moran's discography as Compulsion!!!!! does to Andrew Hill's.

As forward-thinking and all-embracing as Moran is, whatever he does "comes across as a statement of love and respect for the jazz piano tradition" (David Adler): he's worthy of his mentor Jaki Byard's heritage. Maybe I'm listening to Moran too much: even Tarus Mateen's solos are starting to make sense.