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Artist In Residence (2006)

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Jason Moran

The adventurous pianist, composer, and bandleader Jason Moran added guitarist Marvin Sewell to his band on 2005's Same Mother. Sewell is back and melding further with his own funky blues-based playing on Artist in Residence, which is a far-reaching jazz record combining elements of post-bop, New Orleans jazz, funk, blues and even post-20th century classical music to Moran's array of shades and colors to play with. The repetitive sampled spoken word loop by Adrian Piper which acts as the ground for both the opener "Break Down" and "Artists Ought To Be Writing" is a bit h jarring when the band lights up under her. As she chants "Break down the barriers/Break down, misunderstanding/Break down, the artworld/Break down, the artist/Break down, the general public . .," the band uses it (looped continually through the piece, even in the solos) to ground everything in a circular rhythmic principle. Just as unsettling is Alicia Hall Moran's soprano vocal in near Webern-like lieder as the introduction to "Milestone" atop Moran's lilting piano before the band kicks it in prosaically at the one-minute mark. She frames her wordless vocal just as Moran's left hand begins to spin out a melodic figure for everyone else to play around, though the entire piece sounds like an intro. Bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits earn their keep trying to ground this piece as it spirals to near and far Eastern shores. But it gets so much stranger as the improvised bass intro to "Refraction 2" begins to introduce the players almost sideways, and where melody and harmony appear almost as if by accident. Yet it's all motion, building, falling, spilling, and being contained within a harmonic grid that is nearly wide open. The breakdown theme restates itself only to become more fleshed-out as narrative essay in "Artists Ought to Be Writing," but the solo piano that follows is so speculative it never really takes off. The long-ish improvised intro that finally gels as "Rain" is the album's most exciting tune. From its cryptic, elliptical movement into a full-fledged angular yet funky post-bop tune, it is breaking apart by its end nearly 12 minutes later. People may initially have a hard time with Artist in Residence. But it moves so freely and yet so purposely that it draws the listener into its unique soundworld slowly but deliberately, and offers plenty for the effort. ~ Thom Jurek