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A Sublime Tribute

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Monday December 10, 2018

From The Washington Post

Jason Moran offers sublime tribute to WWI hero and ragtime pioneer James Reese Europe
By: Michael J West

We already know that Jason Moran is stunningly and profoundly original, even in his treatment of existing material. (His 2007 multimedia reimagining of Thelonious Monk’s Town Hall concert made it unstintingly clear.) Knowing it doesn’t prepare one for the stark, sublime beauty of ‘James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters: The Absence of Ruin,’ Moran’s latest multimedia work, which received its U.S. premiere at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater on Saturday night.

Moran’s work is a tribute to ragtime pioneer and World War I hero James Reese Europe – co-commissioned by the Kennedy Center as part of its marking of the WWI armistice’s centennial – and, like his Monk tribute, it recasts the Europe repertoire. Often it does so in Moran’s image; Saturday night’s program began with a moving, mournful and thoroughly contemporary solo piano version of Europe’s 1918 rejoice ‘All of No Man’s Land Is Ours,’ soon bringing in a seven-piece horn section as well as Moran’s standard rhythm section (bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits) to fill out the sound. A few minutes later came a deeply soulful, full-band arrangement of ‘Ballin’ the Jack,’ announced with a title projected onto the onstage screen above them.

[…] The information packed into the music was dense and nuanced, including electronic pulses, a recurring use of disjointed horn notes that sounded remarkably like backward recordings, and a stridently (and appropriately) military sound from Waits’s snare drum. It was a rich offering – and a beautiful, poignant, reverent one.

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