Now to take a slight detour, David Alder (who is someone to follow if you don't) recently started a bit of a debate with his post on Covers vs. Standards when he argued that we shouldn't dismiss jazz players who focus on "covers" which are an important component of both keeping the form alive and of mastering the form. Alder suggests that currently the pendulum of tradition vs. innovation might be swinging too far toward the modern, experimental music--at least in terms of who is getting recognized. It was funny as I read the post because I was thinking how well Moran keeps a foot in each camp and that Modernistic was a perfect example of this.
I am not disagreeing with Alder (although the discussion about artists like Moran not playing standards seemed a miss, at least in Moran's case) but rather to say that his post highlighted something I love about Moran--and noted in the first part: his breadth. But not just that he ranges across genre and style, but that he is so clearly grounded in jazz and plays with both beautiful technique and skill.
Modernistic opens with a wonderful arrangement of Jame P. Johnson's "You've Got to be Modernistic" which shows of Moran's wonderful stride piano work, followed by a beautiful rendering of "Body and Soul"--hello! We then shift into the more funky part of the album, starting with a brilliant version of the 80's Afrika Bambaata's rap tune "Planet Rock." and then back into an introspective section, and so it continues. Originals mixed with "covers," stride to funk, standards to classical, but all tied together in an absolutely beautiful album all laid out on just piano and mini piano.
To give you a sense of the album, which you can pick up straight from Blue Note, here are three tracks. First the opening title track if you will--just because I love when he does the stride thing and this is such a fabulous opening track. Then we skip to later in the album for a pair of tunes that show the other two main styles on the disc. First in "Gangsterism on a Lunchtable" you get an spacey, funky exploration--with the help of some interesting instrumentation that someone will have to explain to me--that is Copeland-esque in both tune and phrasing, but all jazz. This is followed by a beautiful take on Robert Schumann's "Auf Einer Burg/In A Fortress" that makes you realize Moran could be a wholly different type of piano player if he chose to be. In short, it is all good.
You've Got To Be Modernistic
Gangsterism On A Lunchtable
Einer Burg/In A Fortress
This is an album that should be in everyone's collection and made me wonder if Jason Moran might not be the best young pianist and composer out there right now. A question I leave to those with more knowledge and awareness of all that is out there, but it is hard to not see him up there near the top of the list.