JASON MORAN "Artist in Residence" Blue Note

Friday, February 23, 2007

JASON MORAN ISN'T being cute when he calls his new album "Artist in Residence." In 2005, three fine-arts institutions invited him to create original compositions as an artist in residence.

At Lincoln Center in Manhattan, he created "Rain," an adaptation of the slavery-era "ring shout" for jazz sextet. At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, he created "Milestone," a response to the museum's permanent collection written for jazz quartet and sound samples. At the Dia:Beacon museum in upstate New York, he created "The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things," a piano-and-percussion score to accompany Joan Jonas's performance-art piece about an 1890s German art historian in the American Southwest.

Moran has reshaped selections from those pieces and has re-recorded them with the original performers. The album's description may sound aridly highbrow and dully academic, but Moran's piano music is full of pleasurable melody and rambunctious beats. When it reacts with the sounds around it, it creates the drama of tension and release.

On "Breakdown" and "Artists Ought to Be Writing," Moran responds to mini-disc samples of artist-critic Adrian Piper's spoken voice; on "Refraction 1," to the percussion shaking of non-musician Jonas; and on "Cradle Song," to the sound of a scratching pencil. In each case, his improvisations respond to the texture and pulse of these sounds the same way it responds to his fellow jazz musicians: by echoing, revising and extending.

This disc doesn't match Moran's recent masterpieces, 2003's "The Bandwagon" and 2005's "Same Mother," but it confirms that Moran is still pushing jazz into new territory.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Hylton High School in Woodbridge and Saturday at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club.

Listen to an audio clip of Jason Moran

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