Jason Moran, Ten

Full disclosure: I normally hate any jazz released after about 1970; I’m a “moldy fig.”

“Jazz,” after this time, means to me extremely white, rhythmically-challenged band geeks who didn’t have the balls (once called “soul,” little did I know) to play music that rocked (once said to “swing,” little did I know).

Matthew Shipp and Trombone Shorty and Jason Moran, in their fashion, educate me.

I believed that, in the last 40 years–there’s no risk, there’s no fire— “jazz,” as it’s commonly known, is soulless, useless, elevator-music crap…. 

You shouldn’t be able to ignore jazz, denigrate it as background music– it should call attention to itself, if even it’s for its subtlety.

A theory, then, about the evolution of the collection of sounds commonly denoted as jazz:

Once upon a time (New Orleans in the very early 20th century, then New York, Chicago and LA), people played a spontaneous music; white people (here the people in power) hated it, as it uncomfortably suggested to them the latent power in the underclass at the time (much like the aristocrats’ fear of the bourgeiousie in France around 1789, or the Catholic church forbidding the reading of the bible in the vernacular).

Even as late as the late 1950s, the majority of music critics were decrying players like Coltrane as “anti jazz.” Fear of newness, fear of innovation– it’s not a new thing, or a white thing, it’s a human… actually, it’s an animal thing, a very primitive evolutionary mechanism (i.e., stay away from novelty and you’ll tend to live longer).

BUT… once the 1960s rolled around, and a newer “dangerous” form of music emerged (rock and roll), jazz, with its acoustic properties, seemed considerably less controversial. By the early 1970s, if not sooner, it was almost quaint and reassuring; representing “the good old days” that almost certainly never were. (You know, the way that much modern country music likes to imply that the 1950s were perfect for everyone.)

Cue: even newer genres like punk, techno, metal, industrial, etc., and any kind of jazz (even the Ornette Colemans and Pharoah Sanders of the world) is wonderfully comfortable to anyone trying to avoid new ideas.

What utterly sad bullshit.

There is absolutely no genre that approaches creativity, innovation– the sheer potential of music and sound– like jazz. Rock and metal particularly are closed-minded and love fundamentals (though this has abated noticably in the last 15 years or so)– so why isn’t jazz blowing the lid off everything listeners expect to hear? Why is it still a “safe” genre?

Enter, in this instance, the nuanced innovation of Jason Moran, and in particular, Ten.

Back to front:

“Old Babies,” a sample of baby talk, literally, in the background, suggests hip-hop and yet works as what we conceive as jazz… an Ornette Coleman in New Orleans party-in-the-brothel number….

“To Bob Vatel of Paris,” while winning the title of the day award, never really takes off, and seems like a French barroom number that gets upset it doesn’t quite take off and tantrums in nearly-abstract “new thing”-ness…

“The Subtle One,” pensive and sad without being suicidal…. “Play to Live,” essentially a rubato intro that doesn’t need time…. “Big Stuff,” patient, smiling… eventually getting maniacal and playful, like “Hall of the Mountain King” on MDMA….

“Study No. 6,” (the first version) arpeggios over maudlin bittersweet affected indifference, with a hint of Arvo Part’s holy minimalism….

“Pas de deux- Lines Ballet,” from the French, steps of two, a ballet dancer’s duet… broods surprisingly arhythmically… solemnly…. “Study No. 6,” (second version) with its tribal introduction… which extends to a whole piece… tribal improvisation…

“Crepuscule With Nellie,” Monk’s, starts purely as a cover, frenetic melody intact… although nothing like a piano piece by another pianist to highlight differences between fingerers of ivory… its 6-note refrain up to concert G, letting you know where you are and that you’re okay, before disappearing again into flurries of atones that somehow fit… goddamn beautiful… the highlight of the album….

“Feedback Pt. 2,” seems indulgent… floats, but never seems to land…. Gloats, in that refusal… but without achievement… Pei Mei style.

“RFK in the Land of Apartheid,” a title giving too much away, evoking more than it has a right to– if your title is more evocative that the music, there’s a mistake somewhere….

“Blue Blocks”: Vince Guaraldi plays spirituals. Very cool, in nearly all senses of the word.

“Jazz” needs a better publicist.

See what you think.

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