I had to go all the way to Berlin to see pianist Jason Moran play with his regular trio, but when I finally did, it was like getting hit by a truck. I hesitate to write that they harness the power of rock because that suggests their most exhilarating moments are scripted, and they're not--they can collapse and rebuild songs as easily as opening and closing a pop-up book--but there's no question that they play with volatile urgency. A few months ago the trio, with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, released its first live album, The Bandwagon (Blue Note), and, while it's flawed, the mix of material (including plucky originals and interpretations of music by Brahms, Jaki Byard, and Afrika Bambaataa) and the elastic arrangements (the version of Mateen's Monkish "Another One" accelerates and decelerates like a rapidly flung yo-yo) affirm that there's no more exciting group working in jazz today. All three members of the Bandwagon have significant input; any one of them might elect to change tempo, intensity, or melodic mood at the drop of a hat, and the others will follow almost instinctively. Waits is especially great, at once underlining the rhythmic vitality of Moran's tunes and forcing his partners to navigate his rapid-fire displacements and subdivisions. Moran makes use of one of his most interesting compositional gambits on "Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul)," mimicking on piano the speech patterns of a Turkish woman speaking in the background; the presence of the woman's voice allows the listener to hear what the pianist is doing, but similar speech-to-music transcriptions on his album Facing Left worked better without. Moran has played some great shows in Chicago before, but this will be the first time he's played here with Mateen. The trio will be joined by Chicago saxophone patriarch Von Freeman, one of Moran's idols. The pianist appeared on two tracks from Freeman's excellent album The Improvisor (Premonition), and their duo performance at the Chicago Cultural Center last winter was a true collaboration--most musicians working with the saxophonist are cowed by his power and simply follow his lead, but Moran played up to his level. Saturday, October 18, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Browr.