Since 1999, Jason Moran has captivated audiences with his numerous albums. His unique, daring style has shown us another face of jazz. Called “the most provocative thinker in current jazz” by Rolling Stone, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon has created albums such as Black Stars and Facing Left. Moran has had works commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation and Walker Art Center. His presence has also allowed him to win awards such as The Jazz Journalists Association's "Up-n-Coming Jazz Musician" award. Drawing upon numerous resources and music styles, The Bandwagon is back with their newest album Ten which is a testament to the band’s musical growth that allows them to project their creative ideas in such a fashion that puts the focus on the “band”. In regards to Ten in a recent interview with Moran he stated, “It is a mark in our life as a band and it was time for us to do another trio record.” With 13 tracks that also feature drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, Ten will delight jazz audiences.
The first track Blue Blocks is originally from Live: Time and is a rhapsodic gospel suite inspired by the guilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. This track was also commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art that initially included The Bandwagon guitarist, Bill Frisell. This tune has a fulfilling church vibe that incorporates descending passages that is heard at the beginning. A gospel, hymn like sound is expressed very clearly. Tarus Mateen on bass announces his role in the beginning as well. It is a funky groove that’s a nice fit for the vigor that is in the music. In a short period of time, Jason Moran improvises with material that’s filled with his trademark chromaticism in which he adds good, full chordal improvised lines. Nasheet Waits knows how to change the character of the drums but still keeps the flow. Imagine a church that is alive with abstract paintings.
A colony of drone sounds going to work describes the constant feedback sounds of the third track Feedback Pt. 2 that was part of a piece commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival. Jimi Hendrix's 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival gave Jason Moran the inspiration for this tune. The piano plays amidst sound that appear quite alien and far off. Nasheet Waits on drums provides a layer of crisp sound while the piano begins with pleasant and warm lines. The feedback sounds in the background are blending well with the music. Beautiful harmonies ring with assurance on the piano. The ambient sound gives off a computerized tone that seems alive and aware. Tarus Mateen on bass matches nicely with the piano harmony. When the piano tremolos gain momentum, the whole tune seems to become more awakened. Jimi Hendrix was known for pioneering the feedback effect on electric guitar and this tune is symbolic of that.
Study No. 6 has a quality as if you ponder what the inevitable will bring in the seventh track. It is as if something is stirring but you do not know what. An ascending scale starts this piece. A constant musical idea is heard a number of times. You can hear the bass pulsing in the background. The tune washes in the percussion. Tension is felt in this piece but it only helps enhance what this tune brings. You are left in suspense, in a subtle kind of glory. The meter is dictated by the feel and not a particular beat. Moran develops the beginning idea through the whole tune.
The ninth track Big Stuff has a thoughtful feel. A high point is reached not too long after the beginning and an interesting introduction begins this tune. Chords at the beginning set up the tremolo. The piano runs are very clean and precise. Graceful piano playing is a trademark of this tune. Then a little later, the character becomes more fierce, like a tornado of sound. Nasheet Waits crashes the cymbals with authority. The rhythm of Moran's lines really bend the beat. Big Stuff has a light playful, humorous quality.
To Bob Vatel Of Paris is the twelfth track and is a tune by Jason Moran's former instructor, Jaki Byard. This is a way to make the public more aware of Jaki Byard's music. You can hear a modern, delightful theme at the beginning. Accurate keyboard runs are impressively executed with confidence. Soon and unexpectedly, the drums and bass are heard with much force and function as a kind of march. The downbeat of the bass has a regular, consistent flow. After a while, the intensity becomes super fast and showcases extreme virtuosity. After this, the original theme emerges. A foot stomping groove is felt before the end.
Reunited again, The Bandwagon has created a milestone album that functions as a point to where they have gone. I want to say that people must not think that their previous albums are in any way inferior to Ten and should be listened to. Their superior sound and creative music voice should be necessary listening for all jazz listeners. I really liked how the tracks at times made you think by providing you with sounds that seem to float around the rhythm. Ten's percussive sound and driving tempos give you an array of style. The piano notes seemed to ring with a rich musical language. They are indeed a juggernaut group of jazz warriors.