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The Bandwagon (2002)

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Tarus Mateen

You cannot help but look forward to each new release from Jason Moran, whose fertile imagination toys with established ways just enough to raise some eyebrows. He is more than an eyebrow-raiser, of course, and his prodigious technique coupled with a tendency to gently push the borders leads to sometimes riveting and almost always interesting results. These tracks are taken from a six-day live gig at New York's Village Vanguard by Moran's longstanding working trio with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen. The two cuts likely to draw the most attention are "Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul)" and "Infospace," each of which uses sampled, sometimes looped, phone conversations to inspire the improvisations. While some might see the technique as gimmicky, it is actually part of an impressive and continuing effort by Moran to continually search for new perspectives, and it works surprisingly well. The other unusual, though for the pianist very characteristic, track is Moran's expansive interpretation of Brahms' "Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2," which respects the original without venerating it. Elsewhere, the listener is treated to a pensive version of "Body & Soul," and a mix of emotions and tempos on original pieces by Moran. Though still young when this was recorded, Moran enters and confronts a world that few have dared to challenge, yet he emerges as a stylist and technician with loads to say. Rather than resting on the laurels of the past, Moran stakes a future that incorporates a new jazz mainstream that is not afraid to challenge and define its own way: thankful, yet not beholden to the past, with one ear hooked to the future. ~ Steven Loewy