Back in the day, jazz musicians had movements to latch onto, whether it was bebop in the 1940s, cool in the '50s, free jazz in the '60s or fusion in the '70s. At the age of 28, Brooklyn pianist and bandleader Jason Moran -- whose fourth album, Bandwagon, captures his trio live from New York's Village Vanguard -- has hip-hop, but not in the way that you might think. Rather than ape hip-hop's literal rhythm and style, Moran absorbs the genre's praxis of building music from sonic surroundings. In so doing, he's building a genuinely new dynamic in jazz.
Stylistically, Moran's trio reflects the post-bop nuance rooted in, for example, Miles Davis' '60s-era quintet, with touches of abstraction. The playing is solid and crowd-winning, especially on Moran's straightahead compositions like "Gangsterism on Canvas." But like a DJ with turntables and a sampler, he sees the world as a gold mine of usable music and sound. Check the range in his choice of covers on Bandwagon: Moran's group emotively caresses Brahms' stately "Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2," offers up a version of the near-sacred jazz standard "Body & Soul," and closes the album with a wonderful take on Afrika Bambaataa's seminal "Planet Rock." These numbers show that, like his record-crate-digging peers, Moran listens widely -- but unlike his compositionally loping fusion and free-jazz forebears, his focus is sharp.
Furthermore, the pianist shows his hip-hop fascination with the human voice by basing two dynamic tunes on his literal melodic accompaniment to the taped voices of a young Turkish woman on the phone and a Chinese man giving a stock report. Moran's trio's performance on Bandwagon offers a brave yet respectful vision of what's next in jazz.
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