Black Stars

On his third album as a leader, 26-year-old pianist Jason Moran teams up with 77-year-old saxophonist Sam Rivers and it’s a perfect combination.

Moran is a deep-focus player, one who pays attention to both the foreground and backdrop of his solos, the most chordally piquant keyboardist to come along since the young Herbie Hancock. Rivers, by contrast, is a dedicated abstractionist with a craggy austerity whose most energized moments have always suggested the idea of action rather than uninhibited heat. But instead of clashing, his intellectually processed emotionalism and Moran’s prodding but essentially romantic style blend to make a rounded statement, both sensuous and thoughtful. On one of the two duet cuts here, Moran’s “Say Peace,” Rivers is ruminatively melodic while Moran makes grandly voluptuous gestures, the two arriving at an uncliched kind of beauty.

The rest are quartet (with Tarus Mateen, bass and Nasheet Waits, drums) and trio numbers, with highlight following highlight. Rivers, whose marathon free-form pieces of the ‘70s and ‘80s are modern classics, can still sprint like a youngster, still spill a wallow of notes without making a mess (on Moran’s “Foot Under Foot” and his own “Earth Song”). While Moran’s left-hand adventurism ensures that he’s never dull, even when sticking close to the theme, as on his witty reimaging of Ellington’s “Kinda Dukish,” or trotting out a neo-stride approach on his one solo outing, Jaki Byard’s “Out Front.”

Rivers also essays his somewhat academic flute and soprano sax stylings on a few cuts and drummer Waits should be singled out for his light, nearly lyrical accompaniment throughout. A great set.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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