Charnett Moffett is a phenomenon on bass. He has a huge sound, and it is to the fore here not as personal display but an important distinctive characteristic of his little family ensemble’s sound.
He is, it seems, a religious man, and his CD almost entirely a devotional work. It opens with hardly less than a short raga, which in Charnett’s hands the double bass has no bother with. His group consists of himself, his brother Mondre on trumpet and flügelhorn, and their brother Codaryl, like their late lamented famous father Charles, the drummer. Scott Brown plays piano, and so it seems does J.S., presumably Jessica Shih, whose liner note is heartfelt.
Two Moffett ladies make vocal contributions, Angela (Mrs. Charnett) adapting the line from Twelfth Night to “if music be the food of life ... ” as an intended meaningful spoken intrusion half-way through the second title. It’s called “I Love the Lord” and Charnett’s sister Clarisse sings a vocalise (using the human voice as a musical instrument, wordless and without the vocables of what grew up in jazz as “vocalese”). All the music on this CD is repetitive, doubtless deliberately, apart from an occasional item so short as to raise the wish it had been played twice.
Even the CD’s title tells you this isn’t secular music. “Numbers” follows and is FREE JAZZ such as got blown when Charnett’s father was Ornette Coleman’s drummer. Mondre has a wild flying blow, and the drummer produces thunder. The band’s plainly excited, but not everybody will share an interest in what might possibly happen in a performance according to the ancient doctrine of free individual expression. The inspiration’s not sustained, though the bassist and drummer work hard. That old New Thing exercise may help identify this CD as, on the whole, a musical version of conceptual art, rather than a strictly musical conception. Now we have a generalised Middle-Eastern style dance piece, the same rhythm again and again, with what might as well be a written solo release or transition for bass, before more of the same.
Then we have a passage of spoken moralising, “Go Placidly”, decorated somewhat by the fact of being pronounced over a brief quartet performance the notes say is on chords of “I Got Rhythm”—though the band’s too far to the rear for that to matter. A “celestial mood piece” follows, including more vocalise, with another long bass episode. Then there’s “The Shepherd”, an “oriental dance piece” with trumpet and vocalise lines over a strong bass figure.
After “Forgiven”, a bass solo timed at 38 seconds, Angela Moffett reads out a not very good poem not very well. It is by Janet Shih, writer of the line notes, and this return to oldtime Poetry and Jazz is really a kind of semi-amateur literary-musical art. The poem “Who Took My Shopping Cart?” is excessively impressionistic, with some ill-judged rhymes imposed by the metrical scheme and creating nonsensical lines. The idea’s good, the poem’s not realised. The bass solo “Prayer” is a little short of three-quarters of a minute, and the band’s “Spirit of Blues”, at only a minute-and-a-quarter, seems to be there as some oblique kind of statement rather than for its own sake as music. There wasn’t enough of it to sustain any comment on the sheer musicmaking abilities of this quartet. I have no idea how the titles “Mercy and Grace” and “The Movement of Freedom” relate to the actual music anybody would hear on this CD. The former’s nearly three minutes were musically perhaps the most interesting on this CD after the opener. The latter’s four minutes are dedicated again to a practice of repetition not disdained in the ten-and-a-half-minute title track and closer. Charnett Moffett has a knack of coining interesting rhythmic figures, and there is a good tune here—I think. The problem is that I heard it so often during the those six hundred and thirty-seven seconds I’m tempted to give credit for the fact to sheer repetition.
This is pleasant enough and mostly self-engrossed music, which not every hearer will find as foreign as I’ve described it. It’s a matter of letting you know what you might be getting.
// Notes from the Road
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