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Jason Moran Takes the Before & After Challenge

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Thursday January 19, 2012

From JazzTimes

Jason Moran Takes the Before & After Challenge
By: Thomas Conrad

Nobody sounds like pianist Jason Moran. Yet his jagged, percussive, expansive piano language, with its hard-edged lyricism, has proven adaptable to many musical situations. Besides the Bandwagon, his longstanding working trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, Moran’s projects as a leader have included solo programs, orchestral Monk and small ensembles with such major horn players as Greg Osby and Sam Rivers. His own curiosity, and the high demand for his services as a sideman, have led to diverse collaborations. He has done Fats Waller with Meshell Ndegeocello and ballet with choreographer Alonzo King.

Moran’s most important, most transformative contributions as a sideman have come in Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet. He has made three highly regarded albums with Lloyd on the ECM label: Rabo de Nube (2008), Mirror (2010) and Athens Concert (2011). It was with Lloyd’s band that Moran came to the Belgrade Jazz Festival in Serbia in October 2011, and this B&A was conducted before a live audience at that event. Moran, 36, was relaxed and confident and instantly immersed in the process. He moved to the front row of the audience in order to better hear each track. Usually he kept listening long after he knew who was playing.

1. Jaki Byard
“Charles Mingus Medley: Fables of Faubus/Peggy’s Blue Skylight” (from Sunshine of My Soul: Live at the Keystone Korner, HighNote). Byard, piano. Recorded in 1978.

BEFORE: So … majestic. The pianist is Jaki Byard. I’m very bad with titles of songs, but this is a Mingus piece. Jaki Byard was also my teacher, so there are things I relate to his sound: these out-of-the-blue stabs of chords—boing! When I was studying with him, this is the thing that I took from him: how to spike the sound, how to punctuate everything. This is a great example of solo piano playing, the way he phrases the melody over and over again. This is a lesson I’m always talking to my students about: Where’s the melody? He never gets tired of playing the melody, in the same way that Thelonious Monk never gets tired of playing a melody.

That was really a little emotional for me for a half-second, because this was a man who helped break down a lot of doors, a person who was totally at ease with tradition and totally at ease with throwing it all under the bus at the same time. The true test of a pianist’s power is how they function when they’re alone. Thanks for playing that.

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