Jazz-pop has expanded lately, with Brad Mehldau, the Bad Plus, and Dr. Lonnie Smith covering Radiohead, Beck, Nirvana. So Jason Moran’s decision to “do the deed” with Brahms and Björk should surprise no one. Still, Moran’s material is immaterial to his mosaic: He’s so gifted at knifing through melodies and uprooting them that his steely textures transcend songsterisms. Not to say it’s not fascinating that he interprets Godfather: Part II‘s soundtrack, but he achieves something juicier than reference-for-its-own-sake: ambiguity-for-its-own-sake.
For Moran, clarity counts only in contrast with moments of profound confusion—he buries themes under layers of sustain-pedal blur before, moments along, a.r.t.i.c.u.l.a.t.i.n.g. them. Bandwagon begins with pre-taped vocals inviting you to hop aboard. Then Moran steps out, with hungry shivering trills, labyrinthine lines, abrupt mood changes, quirkily displaced blue notes, glassy indifference. From the fury of an up-tempo waltz and lyricism of hypnotic balladry to the bump of Afrika Bambaataa and cloudiness of post-impressionism piano-plunks, Moran achieves a variety of damaged hip-hop beats and drunken funk flavors. Kinda like Cex, only sexier.