Jason MoranLast week pianist Jason Moran spent some time at the Kennedy Center teaching grade-schoolers about his approach to jazz. No doubt some grown-ups who attended Moran's concert at the KC Jazz Club on Saturday night could have used a few pointers, too. After all, Moran likes to keep audiences guessing. "Break down the barriers," a sampled mantra that appears on the pianist's latest CD, "Artist in Residence," was the principal theme Saturday night. But Moran and his Bandwagon (bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits) performed a program that didn't cross jazz and various pop genres -- from vintage piano-thumping blues to hip-hop -- so much as connect the dots between them.
Moran often made these connections abruptly -- he's clearly fond of jarring transitions -- but he never appeared ill at ease with a particular mood or movement. Just when you thought he might become preoccupied with tape loops or splintered funk beats, he'd remind you of his firm grounding in swing and bop traditions. A tune composed by Jaki Byard, his late mentor, demanded a strong, old-school left hand and enough rhythmic swagger to fuel an all-night gig at a strip joint. Moran responded accordingly. By contrast, the pianist favored a loping pulse and some left-handed kneading on "Arizona Landscape," as if conjuring a soundtrack for a postmodern western.
Pieces drawn from "Artist in Residence" and its predecessor "Same Mother" shaped the opening set, and though they were pared to the essentials, Moran could always count on Mateen and Waits to keep things interesting and, quite often, surprising.
-- Mike JoyceTafelmusikThe celebrated Canadian baroque ensemble Tafelmusik presented an eclectic concert woven into the fabric of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The concertos were interspersed with season-themed performances by Wen Zhao on the pipa (an ancient Chinese lute); Aruna Narayan on the sarangi (a similar, smaller Indian instrument played with a bow); and, most delightfully, Inuit throat singers Sylvia Cloutier and June Shappa, whose guileless delight in their art had the audience giggling along with them. The conceit was that all of the music was contemporaneously composed at various spots around the globe, and that this was a sort of 1720s "world music" retrospective.
The evening was capped off by a free arrangement of Vivaldi's final "Winter" concerto by Canadian film composer Mychael Danna that undertook to incorporate all four genres. While no evidence was given that the non-Vivaldi music actually was written during that time, the concert was nonetheless a highly enjoyable sampler.
Tafelmusik has forged an easy, confident style over a quarter-century. Its special sound comes from authentic instruments or reproductions (the violinists used neither shoulder pads nor chin rests), gut strings and baroque bows, all underpinned by a gentle, refulgent continuo (both harpsichord and bass lute). The solos were spread democratically among four members, including the director, Jeanne Lamon. All struggled with intonation somewhat, but Julia Wedman conveyed the most pathos and fantasy in her solo turn in "Summer." The guest artists were all marvelous.
-- Robert BatteyBerlin Piano Quartet The Berlin Piano Quartet is actually two ensembles. Violinist Burkhard Maiss, violist Philip Douvier and cellist Bogdan Jianu have successfully toured for a dozen years as the Jacques Thibaud String Trio. With the addition of pianist Tao Lin in 2000, the group became the Berlin Piano Quartet. Both iterations made an appearance at Dumbarton Church on Saturday evening, starting with the trio playing Douvier's transcription of Schubert's Sonatina in D, D. 384 (originally for violin and piano). Not one of the composer's more profound utterances, it is nevertheless a tender, gracefully melodic piece that lost little in this strings-only translation -- particularly when played with the elegance and finely gauged balance between instrumental voices these musicians supplied.
Joined by Lin, the quartet played two works steeped in full-hearted 19th-century romanticism: Schumann's exuberant Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47, and, as the main course, Mendelssohn's turbulent, rhapsodic Piano Quartet in B Minor, Op. 3. In both works, the strings created a satisfying marriage between spontaneous-sounding phrasing and disciplined technical finish, their timbres unfailingly sweet and tellingly blended.
Lin's liberal pedaling and understated dynamics rendered the keyboard parts less boldly individual than in some other pianists' hands, but his playing fit hand-in-glove with the smooth finish of his string partners. All four musicians met the athletic demands of the more extroverted writing in both scores, and brought Mendelssohn's three allegro movements to exhilarating conclusions.
-- Joe Banno