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Tuesday October 19, 2010

From The Gig

Ought to Be
By: Nate Chinen

A few songs into their rampagingly good first set at the Village Vanguard on Tuesday, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon played a somber version of “Artists Ought to Be Writing,” from Artist in Residence, their 2006 album. The track hinges on a spoken text by the conceptualist and philosopher Adrian Piper, whose work, Moran averred onstage, had been important to every member of the band.

Artist in Residence, as you may recall, opens with “Break Down,” a choppy backbeat roil whose refrain is a sampled deconstruction of the same text. So when you reach “Artists Ought to Be Writing,” a few songs later, you hear Piper’s statement through a fog of recognition. These are the words you hear (w/ pauses notated, I think, by Moran):

Artists ought to be writing / about what they do / and / what kind of procedures they go through to realize a work / what their presuppositions in making a work are / and related things. / If artists’ intentions and ideas / were more accessible to the general public / I think it might break down / some of the barriers of misunderstanding between the art world / and artists / and the general public / I think it would become clear the extent to which artists are just as much a product of their society as anyone else as in any other kinds of occasion.

Moran and his partners, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, play in concert with Piper’s cadence and inflection, turning it into an art song of ambiguous tonality. This is a trademark technique for them by now, but as last night’s hit demonstrated, it can still impart a dramatic shiver. And hearing it this way, so carefully presented, is like encountering a manifesto. Break down…the barriers? Yes, please.

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