Loitering at the corner of New York jazz, southern blues, and cowboy poetry, Mose Allison has resisted categorization throughout his four-decade career. How do you pigeonhole a pianist who made some of his first recordings with Stan Getz, scored perhaps his biggest hit singing a tune by Willie Dixon, and writes songs like the postapocalyptic “Ever Since the World Ended (I Don’t Go Out As Much)”? His sometime record producer and longtime admirer Ben Sidran once called Allison “the William Faulkner of jazz”; Allison writes shorter sentences, but otherwise–from his drippingly distinctive language to the blunt strokes of his musical morality tales–that description works fine for me: “The Earth Wants You,” the buoyant title track from his last album, might be mistaken for a benign embrace of ecology; in fact it’s a bouncy reminder that the grave awaits. (“Even tho’ you’ve found a friend in you-know-who / Still you must consider that the earth wants you.”) Allison’s bluesy baritone and unreconstructed Mississippi drawl are not this culture’s preferred vehicle for pungent satire and mordant wit; but, as with the humor of Roy Blount Jr. or even Chris Rock, an unexpected medium makes the message all the sharper. In performance, Mose intersperses these tales with his equally unique piano solos: rife with bebop vocabulary, they nonetheless take their grammar from the blues forms that predated bop, spilling out in even rhythms at machine-gun intensity. Mose’s tunes have often combined a suspicion of false sentiment with an unexpected poignancy. But as he’s gotten older he has occasionally turned his attention completely to the tender side, and a song like “Was” will surely remain one of the loveliest evocations of the void. (“When I become ‘was,’ and we become ‘were’ / Will there be any sign or a trace / Of the lovely contour of your face? / And will there be someone around / With essentially my kinda sound?”) These days, he tends to go anywhere from two to six years between recordings, so the best chance you have of hearing the news from Mose is to catch one of his relatively rare Chicago club dates. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc PoKempner.