After a crazy day yesterday- at one of the schools where I teach, the whole week has been colored by the fact that one of the music students there (one of mine, actually) was in a very serious car accident on Friday night. He was touch-and-go for awhile, but thankfully his prognosis is very positive, and he's home resting comfortably. It definitely changed the vibe of the week- I headed back up to Boston for a ferocious double bill of Dave Douglas at NEC and Jason Moran and Bandwagon at the Regattabar. I talked a lot about Dave's masterclass, but I don't have much to add about the performance. Dave sounded fantastic, most of the students sounded timid (I did too playing with giants at age 19) and hearing that music without Dave's usual musicians drives home the complexity, cleverness and challenges in his music.
It's been ten years since I saw Jason Moran live (and that was as a sideman with Greg Osby), so I had no idea what I was in for. It's almost a given to say that the trio sounded great (after some initial balance/soundboard issues), everybody played their ass off, they have a tremendous level of musical empathy, etc. But what was most striking to me, especially in light of Dave's masterclass, was HOW they put the gig together. They opened with a recorded soundscape that could've fit at the beginning of a Radiohead or Mos Def concert. The band entered the fray during the recording, which closed with Jason's wife Alicia (an accomplished operatic soprano in her own right) singing what seems to be the band's themesong. Every other decision about programming was equally careful- "Break Down" used samples from a performance art piece called "Walking on Women in Harvard Square", playing, then fracturing the text as the music moved in fits and starts. A medley of "Lift Every Voice and Sing", a Jaki Byard head and "Sometimes I Feel Motherless Child" was at once a seemless pass through black history and a reflection of the shape of today's piano trio, reverential without being antiseptic, swinging, wild and loose all at once. Alicia rejoined the band for the closing aria of "Turandot"- the trio adapted its language to fit her singing, rather than the other way around, which recast the drama of the aria without diminishing it. This was a very thoughful artistic statement, not just a jazz set, something the music needs far more of.
Darcy's more comprehensive review of Bandwagon in their (fairly) recent Blue Note hit with the Bad Plus is here. Jason's website, featuring MP3s with Lee Konitz and Wayne Shorter is here. (hat tip to Mwanji) Jason Moran gives a two-hour masterclass at the Manhattan School of Music on Monday, 2/5.