Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting on the Jason Moran Bandwagon, Part I

Somewhere about a year ago, a friend from college days noted that he had been listening to Jason Moran and, in fact, had seen him in concert. He said "not to be corny, but it was more like a journey than a concert." Now, this is a person who is a musician, was a composition major in college and, most importantly, was the guy who once gave me a similar description of Keith Jarrett before he dropped The Köln Concert on me. Yeah, so given that track record, who isn't going to go buy a Jason Moran album? But what album I asked. "Well," says musical friend, it "was a piece called Intermezzo off his album Bandwagon" that got him interested.

And so, that is where I began--although I have subsequently picked up several others, so I am going to write about these in the order I experienced them rather than in the order in which they were released.

When I first got the disc and put it in and the intro played followed by the first track "Another One" which is a pretty raucous affair, I had my doubts. Then comes "Intermezzo" which is actually a piece by Brahms--which is beautiful--followed by a whole host of tunes nothing like it. Now granted, I wasn't really attending to the disc as I should have been the first time thourgh, but I was left with the impression that the Brahms piece was the exception and reminded of the fact that my musical friend also loves the modern, dissonant stuff and I feared this was just not going to be my cup o' jazz.

But, I let it sit a couple weeks and then started playing it in places and at times when I could listen more carefully and a very different impression emerged. Here was someone who could range from Brahms to hip-hop oriented tunes, to beautiful delicate jazz ballads, to straight up bop, to swinging jazz standards. And the range and variation somehow manages to work in a way that produces an album that manages to not only hang together but also create, yes, a journey.

This is someone who uses voice and recordings in a way that makes the music rich and textured not gimicky. Moran is someone who not only has wonderful articulation on the right hand as skips across the keys, but who has wonderful left hand work that almost always has a stride feel to it or on more lyrical pieces big deep chords that resonate throughout the whole piece. That left hand rhythm work is aided by two talented musicians, Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, both who drive the upbeat tunes primarily on the low ends of their respective instruments and delicately float through the softer pieces.

Bandwagon is a live affair so it has more pieces that are boppin' than chilled, but the balance is still wonderful. Just to give you a sense of that, here are two samples. I have to give you the Intermezzo, right, which speaks for itself. That is followed (here and on the record) by "Ringing My Telephone (Straight Outta Istanbul)" which exemplifies Moran's great use of voice.

There is a whole lot more to say, but since, as I noted above, my experience with this album led to several other Moran albums, I will save some commentary for my discussion of those. If you like this one, you can buy the album here, or an autographed copy here.


  1. I haven't given this a listen yet, though I gave it to the Historian for christmas, I think. I love Black Star and Modernistic, though. I think he is a genius.

  2. Parts 2 and 3 will include those--but my favorite so far is none of these (although Modernistic comes close).