Jason Moran: 'Ten' Years Later

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Jason Moran's new album, Ten, is like a stack of progress reports, on his personal growth as a pianist and as composer, on the development of a trio with stable personnel for a decade, and on how jazz itself has progressed in the last 10 years. It includes the latest installment in his continuing series of "Gangsterism" pieces; "Gangsterism Over Ten Years" is informed by rap and hip-hop's speech rhythms, narrow melodic range and love of a catchy instrumental hook. But it also shows how hip-hop influences have been folded into jazz's ongoing dialogue with rock and soul beats. Tarus Mateen on big-bodied bass guitar and Nasheet Waits on drums bring on the funk, even if they're low in the mix.

As a retrospective of the last decade, the album Ten also collects music Moran has written for film and dance projects. "Feedback Part 2," composed for the Monterey Jazz Festival salutes the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop fest that helped make Jimi Hendrix a star. A looped sample of Hendrix guitar feedback floats over the trio as seemingly unrelated layers are superimposed.

Moran also plays pieces by some of the pianists who've influenced him, to remind us what he owes them. He draws on Andrew Hill's subtlety, Jaki Byard's love of historical piano styles and Thelonious Monk's compositional logic. Moran's take on Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" is jazz cubism; he fragments and reorders parts of the melody to make us hear it from a new angle.

As an interpreter, Moran thinks big. His new CD has two distinct versions of composer Conlon Nancarrow's "Study No. 6," one of his typically thorny pieces for player piano. Smoothing out its rhythms, Moran brings out the lyricism in the written line; on one take, Mateen and Waits lay down a thundering post-Captain Beefheart beat.

Ten also updates 1920s stride piano, and turns vaudeville star Bert Williams' understated "Nobody" from 1906 into a two-fisted swinger. Moran likes splashy gestures, but he can be subtle, too, bringing out the blues in Leonard Bernstein's "Big Stuff." Jason Moran has come far in 10 years, as a pianist and leader, but he hasn't traveled alone. His trio The Bandwagon confirms the value of working groups; sometimes, musicians make the most progress by sticking together. They let the music develop, one decade at a time.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

On his second album, 10 years ago, pianist Jason Moran teamed up with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. That trio later became known as The Bandwagon. They're still playing together on Moran's new album called "Ten."

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of song from album, "Ten")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Jason Moran's new album "Ten" is like a stack of progress reports on his personal growth as pianist and as a composer, on the development of a trio with stable personnel for a decade, and on how jazz itself has progressed in the last 10 years. It includes the latest installment in his continuing series of Gangsterism pieces. "Gangsterism Over Ten Years" is informed by rap and hip-hop's speech rhythms, narrow melodic range and love of a catchy instrumental hook. But it also shows how hip-hop influences have been folded into jazz's ongoing dialogue with rock and soul beats.

Tarus Mateen on big-bodied bass guitar and Nasheet Waits on drums bring on the funk, even if they're low in the mix.

(Soundbite of song, "Gangsterism Over Ten Years")

WHITEHEAD: As a retrospective of the last decade, the album "Ten" also collects music Jason Moran has written for film and dance projects. "Feedback Part 2," composed for the Monterey Jazz Festival, salutes the 1967 Monterey Pop fest that helped make Jimi Hendrix a star. A looped sample of Hendrix guitar feedback floats over the trio as seemingly unrelated layers are superimposed.

(Soundbite of song, "Feedback Part 2")

WHITEHEAD: Jason Moran also plays pieces by some pianists who've influenced him, to remind us what he owes them. He draws on Andrew Hill Thelonious Monk's compositional logic. Moran's take on Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" is jazz cubism. He fragments and reorders part of the melody to make us hear it from a new angle.

(Soundbite of song, "Crepuscule With Nellie")

WHITEHEAD: As an interpreter, Jason Moran thinks big. His new CD has two distinct versions of composer Conlon Nancarrow's "Study No. 6," one of his typically thorny pieces for player piano. Smoothing out its rhythms, Moran brings out the lyricism in the written line. On one take, Mateen and Waits lay down a thundering post-Captain Beefheart beat.

(Soundbite of song, "Study No. 6")

WHITEHEAD: On his album "Ten," Jason Moran also updates 1920s stride piano, and turns vaudeville star Bert Williams' understated "Nobody" from 1906 into a two-fisted swinger. Moran likes splashy gestures, but he can be subtle, too, bringing out the blues in Leonard Bernstein's "Big Stuff."

Jason Moran has come far in 10 years, as a pianist and leader, but he hasn't traveled alone. His trio The Bandwagon confirmed the value of working groups. Sometimes, musicians make the most progress by sticking together. They let the music develop one decade at a time.

(Soundbite of song from album, "Ten")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He reviewed "Ten," the new album by Jason Moran's trio The Bandwagon on the Blue Note label. You can hear the album in its entirety on the website nprmusic.org. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.