Young Pianist Jason Moran Plays the Blues—But Conceptually, of Course

Jason Moran does a bit of versioning on Same Mother. The centerpiece of the young pianist's "blues" album is his version of Albert King's "I'll Play the Blues," which starts off thrillingly, with guitarist Marvin Sewell replicating King's trademark combination of purring elegance and snarling menace, but runs out of gas a minute or so in. The good news is that everything else on the album works, even when the conceptual link to the blues is a matter of faith; it's Moran's best since Black Stars. Segueing directly from Mal Waldron's "Fire Waltz" to a theme from Prokofiev's score for Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky is an inspired touch, given the foreboding the two pieces share. Except for "Jump Up," a frisky little roadhouse shuffle, Moran's originals are themselves dark and insistent—though never oppressive, thanks to a superior sense of pacing and dynamics that proves as great an asset to Moran the bandleader as to Moran the soloist (he, Sewell, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Nasheet Waits crescendo as one). The most striking of the new pieces are "G Suit Saltation," with its piano-and-guitar pointillism, and "The Fields," with its conflicting echoes of church and concert hall. Till now, I've found Moran's celebrated eclecticism—his chorus-to-chorus juxtaposing of vintage and modern styles—intellectually distanced where his model, Jaki Byard, seemed a natural. This shortcoming is as much generational as personal; distance is inevitable as jazz traditions recede further into the past. Same Mother goes a long way toward closing the gap.

 
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