[31 January 2005]
On his sixth album, Same Mother, Jason Moran continues to explore the roots and influences of the jazz idiom, while simultaneously demonstrating how its innovations can be applied to any number of mediums. The central theme of this album is the blues, the title being in reference to the idea that both jazz and the blues have a comparable expressive quality and aesthetic, stemming from the “same mother.” However, as is typical with the progressive and modernistic (in every sense of the word) Moran, he uses the blues as a structural and thematic springboard to write and reinterpret. The album balances beauty with pain, much like its subject, yet in a stylistically inventive and unfamiliar manner, the results being overwhelmingly stimulating and evocative.
Opening with “Gangsterism on the Rise”, the latest composition from his now standard “Gangsterism” series, Moran rumbles into the album with his now standard backing group (often called the Bandwagon) of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits (latest addition guitarist Marvin Sewell joins them on select tracks). The dramatically rolling song conjures riffs and ideas from Monk to Duke, barrelhouse juke joints from Texas to Louisiana, unfurled in a wash of inverted phrases. The cut is both a transition point from one Moran album to the next, in addition to being an introduction of the distinct form of mash-up to be heard here. “Jump Up”, a heavy rhythm and blues vamp, establishes the theme in a direct and declaratory manner by using an up-tempo blues pattern to launch bold solos from Sewell and Moran. While the invocation of past blues masters for modern retellings is hardly new—the skronk of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band come to mind during this song’s extremes—however, Moran and his group use a pure filter that leaves the spirit of the music intact; the performance therefore touches the spirit in a familiar sense, yet uses an updated lexicon. The less exploratory but no less revelatory reading of the Albert King standard “I’ll Play the Blues For You” perfectly captures this process in action. Moran and co. veer out on occasion from the simple verses and bridges, but with an extreme respect for the blues-smith’s signature foot-dragging, slow-roasted funk groove and beat, so excellently exhumed from King’s corpse and transplanted by Mateen and Waits. This spiritual pulse resonates throughout Same Mother, even giving straight compositions like the lullaby-like “Aubade” and the meditative “G Suit Salutation” an affecting quality.
The album truly takes off at the midway point, beginning with a reading of Mal Waldron’s “Fire Waltz”. Using the bridge as a straight-fours release point from the verse’s tense three-rhythm, Moran and his men build and break tension with ease, creating a balanced aural portrait of beauty and struggle. The group segues from this modern waltz to the melodramatic “Field of Dead”, a piece inspired by the closing scene from pioneer filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s period epic “Aleksandr Nevsky. In film, the scene depicts a woman searching for her fiancé amidst a glacier of broken ice and fallen soldiers. In Moran’s composition, a slide guitar floats much like the woman over a mess of cymbal washes, bass hits, and piano rolls. Stylistically, the piece is a fusion of delta blues instrumentation with modern orchestral composition. Combined with a controlled performance, the track builds with perfectly paced drama. The aptly titled “Restin’” therefore provides a much-needed, quiet resolution, and the following “The Field” re-opens the group’s canvas with a rich and melancholy melody, reminiscent of Radiohead. In tandem, these last two pieces provide the listener with space and room to breathe, an opportune moment after the tumble of emotions and ideas.
Same Mother closes with another Gangsterism title, “Gangsterism On the Set”, a slow jolt that reestablishes the rhythmic pulse so prevalent in the first half of the album. The effect is partially to book-end the record, but also to bridge the listener’s attention back to the ideas of Moran; it is a reminder that this has been another Jason Moran message, and there’s still more to come. Although hardly extraordinary amongst his recorded output thus far, Same Mother is still another building block in Moran’s continued exploration of music.