Wonderful Amsterdam-based reedist Michael Moore is arriving in town ahead of his compatriots from the ICP Orchestra–who play the Chicago Jazz Festival on Sunday–for performances with locals on Wednesday and Thursday. The California expat has broadened his sound over the years–he’s become superb at texture-based abstraction and abrasive blowing–but a few recent releases (all but one of them on his own Ramboy label) prove he hasn’t been neglecting his tender, melodic side.
Holocene, cut in New York in 2004 and in Amsterdam a year later, is an intimate trio recording with accordionist Guy Klucevsek and cellist Erik Friedlander. The group traces Moore’s gentle themes with exquisite care, stretching them carefully between from meticulously arranged passages to wide-open sections where the player carrying the melody tugs against the harmonies of the others. Moore’s clarinet and alto feel lighter than air, but they’re never toothless; there’s a bite to his tone that sneaks up on you. Melancholy and torpor hover over the tuneful pieces, in keeping with the Bob Dylan quote Moore includes in the liner notes to suggest we’re in “the New Dark Ages.” Moore is a big Dylan fan–his trio Jewels & Binoculars does nothing but Dylan pieces–and the pretty melody of his original “Trouble House” would’ve seemed natural in of Dylan’s late-60s ballads.
Similarly lovely melodies proliferate on Fragile, a quartet outing with drummer Michael Vatcher (a fellow California-to-Amsterdam expat) pianist Harmen Fraanje, and bassist Clemens van der Veen. (Clarinetist Ab Baars, who plays with Moore in ICP, turns up on two tracks as well.) The presence of a rhythm section makes for more propulsive music, of course, but despite the occasional rough edges and oblique harmonies, the focus remains on liquid lyricism. Even on a blues like “Families Be So Mean,” Moore burrs his elegant lines with flutters of dissonance, voicing emotion with subtle effects rather than grand gestures.
The most introspective release in this batch is the digital-only This We Know (Palmetto), a 2003 duo date with Moore and pianist Fred Hersch, with whom he’s worked off and on for more than three decades. On originals by both players and a killer take on Monk’s “Four in One,” they display a preternatural rapport, and they share an ability to situate weird harmonic twists within the most fluid, accessible pieces.
Sweet Ears, a 1996 recording by Moore’s old band the Persons, is the odd release out, but even this relatively raucous, noisy music is plenty catchy. Electric guitarists Danny Petrow and Nick Kirgo chew up the changes with neat, interlocking riffs that fit snugly into the tough grooves banged out by Vatcher and bassist James “Sprocket” Royer, and Moore unleashes postbop flurries on the front line with cellist Ernst Reijseger, freely zipping in and out of the written material.
Wednesday night at the Hideout Moore is joined by reedist Keefe Jackson, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Mike Reed; on Thursday at Elastic he performs with Reed, Roebke, and pianist Jim Baker. Both groups will play pieces from Moore’s voluminous songbook.
Cardinal, Cardinal (Empyrean)
Fruko y Sus Tesos, The Early Recordings of Fruko y Sus Tesos (Creole/Discos Fuentes)
Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)
Doctor Structure, Doctor Structure (Scraggly)
Davy Graham, Hat (Fledg’ling)