March 24, 2010 — In 1999, the same year that Jason Moran released his debut Soundtrack To Human Motion, the prodigy pianist and composer also joined New Directions, a band made up of young stars from the Blue Note roster that went on tour in celebration of the label’s 60th anniversary. At the core of New Directions was the genesis of a rhythm section—with Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Nasheet Waits—that would go on to become one of the most enduringly creative piano trios in jazz.
Ten years later, the trailblazing trio—which Moran has since dubbed The Bandwagon—headed into Avatar Studios in Manhattan to record Ten, the most assured and focused album of Moran’s acclaimed career, a snapshot of a mature band with a decade of shared musical experience from which to draw. The album, Moran’s first in four years, will be released June 22 on EMI’s Blue Note Records.
“Ten is our first record that doesn’t rely on a concept to drive it. The only concept is us as a band today,” says Moran. “As our band has evolved over ten years, there’s a certain ease that we now function within, an ease to let the music be. On some of my earlier recordings, I was making sure I exposed my ideas as a thinker. Now we refrain from jumping through every musical window of opportunity, but only jump through the good windows.”
Befitting the man who Rolling Stone called “the most provocative thinker in current jazz,” Moran draws the material for Ten from a wide variety of sources. “Blue Blocks,” which opens the album with a bluesy cascade of chords, comes from Live: Time, a piece commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art that was inspired by the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. The elegiac “Feedback Pt. 2” was part of a piece commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival for which Moran drew inspiration from Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and used samples of the guitarist’s feedback.
“RFK In The Land Of Apartheid” is the main theme from a film score that Moran composed for the documentary RFK In The Land Of Apartheid about Robert Kennedy’s 1966 visit to South Africa and his famous “Ripple Of Hope” speech. “Pas De Deux” comes from Moran’s first-ever dance collaboration with choreographer Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet company. “Old Babies” gives us another window into one of the most profound influences on Moran these days, his twin sons Jonas and Malcolm, born in 2007.
In addition to songs by Leonard Bernstein (“Big Stuff”) and minstrel pioneer Bert Williams (“Nobody”), there are also compositions by three of Moran’s foremost influences: Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, and Jaki Byard. “Crepuscule With Nellie” was featured in Moran’s multimedia concert event In My Mind: Monk At Town Hall, 1957. “Play To Live” is a piece Moran co-wrote with his teacher Hill, who died of lung cancer in 2007.
The track listing for Ten is as follows:
1. Blue Blocks (Jason Moran)
2. RFK in the Land of Apartheid (J. Moran)
3. Feedback Pt. 2 (J. Moran)
4. Crepuscule with Nellie (Thelonious Monk)
5. Study No. 6 (Conlon Nancarrow)
6. Pas de Deux - Lines Ballet (J. Moran)
7. Study No. 6 (C. Nancarrow)
8. Gangsterism Over 10 years (J. Moran)
9. Big Stuff (Leonard Bernstein)
10. Play to Live (Andrew Hill/Jason Moran)
11. The Subtle One (Tarus Mateen)
12. To Bob Vatel of Paris (Jaki Byard)
13. Old Babies (J. Moran)
The Bandwagon made their first recording as a trio with Facing Left in 2000, and has been the foundation of the majority of Moran’s artistic statements since. The trio has been augmented by saxophonist Sam Rivers for 2001’s Black Stars, (which was named to NPR’s list of “The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings”) and guitarist Marvin Sewell on 2005’s blues exploration Same Mother as well as 2006’s Artist In Residence, a compendium of Moran’s arts institution commissions that also featured collaborations with soprano Alicia Hall Moran and conceptual artist Adrian Piper. In a recent live review in The New York Times, Nate Chinen praised Moran’s “fierce longstanding group,” adding that they “didn’t follow his lead so much as flank him on both sides. Though it’s a trio its sound described something bigger and more indivisible.”
TheGrio recently named Moran one of their 100 History Makes in the Making, declaring him “the future of jazz.” He also collaborated on Cassandra Wilson’s Grammy-winning album Loverly, and premiered composer Ohad Talmor’s Piano Concerto (which was inspired by Moran) in Portugal. This year he will continue to tour with saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet, the Overtone Quartet—an all-star group that also features bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Eric Harland—and will also perform with a special trio featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Ron Miles at George Wein’s CareFusion Jazz Festival in New York. The Bandwagon will tour North America and Europe throughout the summer and fall.