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REVIEW: Bandwagon ties up all the Blues ends

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Wednesday June 15, 2011

From the Brisbane Times

New York threesome ties up all the blues ends
By: John Shand

The Basement, June 13

IN 20 days, 16 international jazz acts have played in Sydney. The last such influx came in January 1981, which featured Lester Bowie’s From the Root to the Source, a band that delighted in proving the oneness of the gamut of African-American music, from field hollers to free jazz.

How fitting, then, that the penultimate act this time, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, should undertake a similarly non-didactic lesson in eliminating idiom.

If jazz is the art of surprise, Moran is a consummate practitioner. He happily incorporated recordings and samples, so songs by Billie Holiday or Mississippi Fred McDowell and fragmentary samples of Fats Waller or Roy Haynes often acted as introductions. These were then joined by his piano, Tarus Mateen’s bass and Nasheet Waits’s drums.

Blues unravelled into free improvisation, swing tightened into R&B, and that might all happen in one piece. The divide between samples, composition and improvisation was similarly blurred, so that startling unisons reared up out of apparently scribbled frenzies, epitomising the cohesion of this decade-old New York trio.

Moran’s formidable playing reinforced his compositions’ range. Bullying power, emotional austerity, keen humour and radiant beauty all intermingled, as he became the stylistic bridge between Erroll Garner and Cecil Taylor, with the history of jazz piano washing underneath. Mateen proved one of those bassists whose playing is so dangerous it could probably undermine the foundations of your house. He found the bluesy implications in free jazz and the funky ones in swing.

Waits layered subtle rhythmic complexity into simple figures and brought phenomenal precision to his articulation of the freer passages. He was also a vital part of the three-way love of rolling density, which could build and build to overwhelming mass.

This was a worthy climax to three remarkable weeks.

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