Jason Moran | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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JASON MORAN

These days the big jazz labels don't have much faith in their younger artists. Rather than trusting their music to speak for itself, they frequently press the musicians into artificial conceptual settings--like Charlie Hunter recording Bob Marley tunes or Roy Hargrove suffocating his playing with syrupy strings--that more often than not inhibit the music-making process. But last year's New Directions, on which next-generation Blue Note bandleaders Greg Osby, Mark Shim, Stefon Harris, and Jason Moran were directed to revisit postbop classics from the label's vaults, escaped a similar fate. The individualistic musicians seized the opportunity to transform Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," Hank Mobley's "No Room for Squares," and Wayne Shorter's "Tom Thumb," among others, through bold reharmonizations, new countermelodies, and rehashed rhythms. The restlessness that made that collection stand out was even more dramatic on Moran's superb second album, Facing Left, a trio date with the New Directions rhythm section, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Moran, a student of idiosyncratic pianists Andrew Hill, Jaki Byard, and Muhal Richard Abrams, stretches Bjork's "Joga" into a shimmeringly gorgeous epic and boldly reinterprets themes from Yojimbo and The Godfather, Part II, and he built the melody of "Thief Without Loot" from the speech patterns of a Japanese acquaintance. With Mateen and Waits he eviscerates the mechanics of the piano-trio tradition, compressing and expanding time as if it were as simple as compressing and releasing a pedal, abandoning standard theme-solos-theme structure on nearly every tune, and challenging the usual notions of accompaniment by turning solo passages into contrapuntal three-way conversations. The only thing more striking than the sheer quantity of ideas is the group's conciseness in executing them: all 13 tunes are under six minutes long. For his local debut as a leader, Moran will be joined by Waits, the muscular and flexible bassist Scott Colley, and the great alto saxophonist Osby, who's been Moran's most vocal booster in recent years. Friday, January 19, 9 PM, and Saturday, January 20, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Wong.

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