Pianist, bandleader, and composer Jason Moran is in town tonight, bringing an ambitious new project to Symphony Center. He’s developed a practice of saluting key influences in a fashion that eschews predictable tributes: his celebration of the great Fats Waller turned the subject’s music upside down with infusions of hip-hop and R&B, while his project built around the famous 1959 Town Hall concert by pianist Thelonious Monk is enhanced with audio recordings, photographs, and videos inspired by contemporaneous work done by photographer Eugene Smith at a New York loft space. Tonight Moran presents New Fables, a collaboration with the hip-hop and R&B vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow that pays homage to the music of Charles Mingus.
Moran and Muldrow debuted the project in January at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C., where Moran is artistic director of jazz. In it, indelible Mingus classics like “Fables of Faubus,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and “Better Git It in Your Soul” are freely arranged in new settings by a knockout band that also includes the stellar front line of trombonist Frank Lacy, tuba player Marcus Rojas, and saxophonist Darius Jones, along with drummer Nasheet Waits and Daru Jones, bassist Tarus Mateen, and percussionist Daniel Moreno. You can check out a feature about the project that includes extensive excerpts from the initial performance on this episode of NPR’s Jazz Night in America. Below, you can also check out an interview with Moran about the project in which he discusses pianist Jaki Byard, a longtime Mingus sideman who was one of Moran’s teachers and most important influences, thus providing him a link to the legend.
Nix worked off and on with saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and James Chance, but on his own he made only a few records, though they were true dazzlers. I retain deep feelings for his 1993 trio album Alarms and Excursions (New World), a set of introspective originals that showcased Nix’s instantly recognizable tunefulness and wiry phrasing in a typically gentle setting with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Newman Baker. I’ll never forget catching Nix play that music live at the original HotHouse that same year.
His final recording was made in 2006 for the Tompkins Square imprint—one of the earliest titles on the label, and one that existed only in the digital format, which meant that it didn’t get the hearing it deserved. These days people aren’t so allergic to digital release, so let’s hope you’re willing to hie thee over to the label’s Bandcamp page to dig into Low Barometer, a stunning collection of acoustic solo pieces on which Nix’s melodic gifts collide with wonderfully dense and thorny harmonic explorations, all unfolding at a leisurely pace. There’s no missing the brambly sound of Derek Bailey in these pieces, which, according to an obit published today by Nate Chinen, “were based on Harmolodic études [Nix] had devised while working with Coleman in the ’70s.” Below you can hear one of these extraordinary tracks, the wryly titled “Generic Ballad.”
Sadly, Nix had been in rehearsals of late for a Prime Time reunion designed to pay homage to Coleman—part of an Ornette Coleman festival taking place over the summer at New York’s Lincoln Center. Now it appears that July 14 concert will need to give some salutary space to Nix too.
John Butcher/Thomas Lehn/Matthew Shipp, Tangle (Fataka)
Darrell Banks, I’m the One Who Loves You: The Volt Recordings (Kent)
Arditti String Quartet, Klaus Lang: Sei-Jaku für Streichquartett (Edition RZ)
Abdel Halim Hafez, Mashi El Tariek (EMI Arabia)
Mara Rosenbloom Trio, Prairie Burn (Fresh Sound New Talent)