Jazz Notes: Pianist Jason Moran Takes His Trio Bandwagon on a Vibrant Ride at Village Vanguard
By Dan Ouellette, ZEALnyc Senior Editor, November 30, 2017
While top-tier pianist Jason Moran has had a busy year working with a big band—most notably his strikingly reimagined tour celebrating the historic Thelonious Monk Town Hall Concert in 1959—he slimmed down his format to trio for his six-night engagement at the Village Vanguard that ended on Sunday, November 26. The 2010 MacArthur fellow and current artistic director for jazz duties at the Kennedy Center brought to the fore his longtime threesome: Bandwagon, a Moran band formed in 2003, comprising bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. All 12 sets for the week were sold out, including remarkably both sets on Sunday night.
In the first set, Moran said before playing a note what a pleasure it has been for the week. “This is our final night here,” he said. “There are very few places in the world where one band can play for an entire week. It’s a tradition at the Village Vanguard. It forces the band to rise.” And soar they did as they elevated with an energized set that featured pockets of serenity and frenzy, spirit and soul, lyricism and free. The band opened with the rambunctious original, “Gangsterism at the Vanguard,” featuring the alchemy of the trio as they moved from sweet swing to dissonant splashes. Moran led the fast-forward movement with speedy runs across the keys (a strong single-note charge combined with chordal pounces) and eased the piece to its conclusion with gentle pianistic grace. It was typical Moran exercising his personality as an emotional and playful artist.
Next up was “Bless the Boats,” a melodic piece by Moran’s wife Alicia Hall Moran, that started as a ballad and shifted into a mid-tempo movement spurred on by the rhythm team especially with Mateen’s soft-toned electric bass lines. Unlike many artists these days, Moran likes to talk, explain, celebrate between songs. He did that by extolling Thelonious Monk before taking his trio for a visit to his songbook, from drum-brushed quiet to an upbeat romp where the velocity was fed by all three rhythm players.
The most moving moment in the set came when Moran played tribute to another of his mentors and friends, pianist Geri Allen, who passed away this year. “She was the one who made the future possible,” he said, noting that the magnitude of her legacy has yet to fully played out. “She was not only great in her own career, but she spent time honoring the legacy of such jazz heroes as Mary Lou Williams, Errol Garner and most recently McCoy Tyner. He then led his band into a turbulent, sublime take on one of her most revered tunes, “Feed the Fire,” with his roiling of the keys while Mateen played vibrant melodic fills and Waits, with his eyes closed in ecstasy, drummed up a storm of love.
It’s rare to catch Moran in a club these days given his commissions and projects, so it was special to find him at home in the jazz mecca of the city.
Cover: (l. to r.) Nasheet Waits, Jason Moran, and Tarus Mateen; courtesy of artists.