Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Morning after

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2000 at 12:00 AM

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Each time jazz reinvents itself, we want to trace it all down to one player at the root: Monk, Coltrane, Ornette, etc. But in this quintessentially communal music, that “one” is the eye of a hurricane.

Last month, when Greg Osby’s quartet blew into the SereNgeti Ballroom on Woodward for two nights of spontaneous redefining, the alto saxophonist-leader brought along his dharma partner, one of the most daring young pianists in decades, Jason Moran. Like a pair of Zen anarchists, Osby and Moran were all about blowing up the bridges of our preconceptions and leaving in their place some challenging new stepping-stones across the stream. Full of fantastically elegant ideas that flowed from tune to tune with hardly a pause, they filled the cool night air with sophisticated, heart-stopping passion.

And just a few weeks later, here’s Moran’s new Blue Note release, Facing Left, like a morning-after when you check to see if the ecstasy wasn’t all just makeup and mirrors. But Moran’s no mirage — and he’s saved a few svelte moves for his own trio that wouldn’t quite fit in Osby’s format.

After opening the disc with two Ellington numbers sandwiched around his own avant-hip hop-schizophrenic “Thief Without Loot” and Icelandic pop chanteuse Björk’s lonely lyrical “Jöga,” Moran launches into a rendition of the theme from Akira Kurosawa’s samurai western Yojimbo. The Ellington tunes are a telltale sign, because Moran has inherited Duke’s urbane, savoir-faire approach to material, but somewhere along the way a couple of creamy scoops of Béla Bartók and Nino Rota have gotten added to the shake. So medieval Japanese existentialism is just another crazy bonbon on the menu, and here it’s in the middle of the meal.

Early studies with Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill revved up Moran’s all-over, ambidextrous way with the keyboard — a two-fisted, post-no-boredom attitude that takes him from pointillism to rapid runs to block chords to funk in a single solo. He’s operatic on Carmine Coppola’s “Murder of Don Fanucci,” fleet-fingered on Byard’s “Twelve” and starkly impressionistic on his own “Fragment of a Necklace.” By the time he closes with his one-man gospel, “Gangsterism on Wood,” you’ve had the full-roller coaster-monty, a heady tour around the block and then counterclockwise, before he tucks you in with a tender kiss.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at gtysh@metrotimes.com.

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