Jason Moran: The Rauschenberg of Jazz
In Sunday’s early set, Moran navigated a wide ranging course of pieces—by Andrew Hill, Mal Waldron, Albert King, the minstrelist Bert Walker, an original composition, and a lovely ballad by his wife, Alicia Hall, an accomplished singer—all with his seemingly effortless virtuosity, emotional depth, and swing. They were interspersed by tapes of sound from old movies, hip-hop rhythms, and random sounds—like the rubbed-in drawings of a Rauschenberg collage—yet the design was seamless and the effect transporting. The set’s one original song (which also appears on his most recent CD, Artist in Residence) began with a tape of the artist Adrian Piper talking about the breakdown in relations between art and society; Moran stepped in with a melody that matched Piper’s cadences, then gradually built a grand improvisation on top of that.
Moran was playing with his Bandwagon trio: Tarus Mateen on electric bass, Nasheet Waits on drums. I used to think the group hampered Moran, but in the past couple years they’ve been meshing perfectly. There’s a tight rhythm, a free spirit, and a solid sense of the blues in their work—a combination as rare as it is fine.
On CD, Moran’s best work remains his solo Modernistic, maybe the most inventive solo jazz piano album in a decade. (Its playlist includes James Johnson, Muhal Richard Abrams, Afrika Bambaata, a very creditable Schumann, and the most original take on “Body and Soul” since Coleman Hawkins.) But I also highly recommend Artist in Residence, Same Mother, and his sideman work with Greg Osby.