Jason Moran has made his mark on the New York jazz scene. A former Houston native, HSPVA graduate and Manhattan School of Music graduate, he has incorporated hip hop, avant-garde and classical music into his compositions and represents the new school of jazz. He has come out with albums such as his debut album “Soundtrack to Human Emotion” , solo piano album “Modernistic” and “Black Stars”, in which Jazz Times named it the cd of the year. Now in his 2006 seventh album “Artist in Residence” featuring 10 tracks, he seeks to cross barriers and take his unique music voice to another level featuring bassist Tarus Mateen, guitarist Marvin Sewell, drummer Nasheet Waits and pianist Jason Moran.
Featuring a constant build up of tension, the album’s third track Refraction 2 has an active guitar in the introduction. The introduction of the piano is solid as you know that there is an inevitable chaotic build up. There is a constant left hand ostinato that propels the piece as a solid foundation for which the melody comes to life. You can feel that there is a story being told as the movement into triumphant energy will lead to a climactic explosion. Standing against anything is what one feels as there is a battle feel to the drum beat preparing the individual for what lies ahead. At one point, Jason Moran’s downward keyboard run sinks into a powerful downbeat. The drummer makes a statement as you can hear a rock influence towards the end.
The fourth track Cradle Song, a Carl Maria von Weber piece, which is an expressive piece by nature has the sound of scribbling in the background which is symbolic of Moran’s mother taking down notes during his piano lessons as a child. In this piece the melody is played very expressively in the beginning helping one feel the budding life of youth. The piece transitions nicely into a more determined feel as Jason Moran adds jazz harmony, pentatonic and scale runs, showing us his blues influence as well. Memories of the childhood lessons that lead us to where we are at is definitely heard in this solo piano piece.
Gentle rolling scenery while looking out of your car window is the mental image that one receives while listening to the seventh track Arizona Landscape. You can hear a blues style theme through the piece from beginning to end. There is an element of powerful, passionate playing over a constant left hand pattern. This solo piano piece features modern improvisation over easy, pleasant sounding harmony. After hearing this piece, one will be at home remembering the awesome times in a not so forgotten place. The music comes back to the easiness that was heard in the beginning.
The final piece, He Puts On His Coat and Leaves, has a mystical, mysterious beginning that has you wondering what lies beneath the musical journey. The deep depths of sound and crystal shadows are explored. The bass notes are like intelligent deep murmurings. You know that the journey has reached its destination as the intensity picks up. Jason Moran’s tremolos that are sustained leave an imprint upon your ears. The beauty of this piece is the wonderful haunting uncertainty displayed by the effect of the music. As the sound goes to sleep, Jason Moran leaves quietly.
I feel that Jason Moran adds so many unique past and modern elements to his music and still manages to sound new school in Artist in Residence. Some listeners and fans of old school jazz might be in for a ride as Jason Moran can be quite daring with full faith of the positive effect and vision of his music to the jazz scene. In this album, some may be dismayed at the lack of a unified, trio jazz sound since much of the time Jason is either playing solo or just playing with the drummer or using the guitarist freely. He will employ the guitar and drum in very unique ways that seeks to challenge the listener’s view of how jazz should sound. The imagination is definitely stimulated by the array of colors that the pieces in this album exude. This album is so different but at the same time uses the elements that have made jazz what it is. You should check out this album if you have not already. The music in this album is an absolutely wonderful treat.
-written by Richard Henry-