Jazz's Bleeding Edge Found in Tennessee

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Wednesday March 28, 2018


Jazz’s Bleeding Edge? You Can Find It, Briefly, In Eastern Tennessee
By: Nate Chinen

Milford Graves and Jason Moran were listening hard at the Big Ears Festival on Friday evening, and in this they were far from alone. Their spontaneous musical dialogue, onstage at the elegant Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tenn., suggested a merging of the ancient and the ultramodern, aglow with an ephemeral sort of grace. At one point, Moran’s deep, mournful sonorities at the piano led Graves toward a murmuring hush at the drums, as if anything else would break the spell.

Musically speaking, this was a first-time encounter for Graves, who at 76 is a sagacious elder in the improvising avant-garde, and Moran, 43, whose career has branched out from a position closer to jazz’s center.

[…] Moran is an obvious case in point. Along with the Graves duo, he played a show at the Mill & Mine, around midnight, with his Fats Waller Dance Party, creating a hallucinatory funk jam inspired by one of jazz’s foundational heroes. He also performed at the Bijou with BANGS, a trio that released one of my favorite albums last year and sounded even better here.

BANGS is all about Moran’s sensitive, shifting rapport with guitarist Mary Halvorson and cornetist Ron Miles, who each brought furious concentration to the task. Sometimes it sounded unmistakably like jazz, sometimes not. A seamless progression from the austere beauty of “White Space” (by Halvorson) to the pastoral reassurance of “Cupid” (by Miles) imparted the sensation of pure possibility, an open road under a billowing sky.

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