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Jason Moran

Saturday night the Charles Lloyd New Quartet played SF Jazz as part of his residency. Charles has been one of my most profound influences, since I saw his first great quartet, with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee, and Jack DeJohnette in the 60's at the Fillmore. (Opening for Albert King, headliner B.B. King, no less. Thank you Bill Graham). The New Quartet, with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, has been his primary vehicle since 2007. It is ironic, but probably not an accident, that the two most forward and contemporary bands in the world are led by elders: Charles Lloyd and Wayne Shorter. They have always pushed the boundaries, with exquisite taste. Charles was in brilliant form Saturday, it was perhaps the finest performance of his I've ever seen, and one of the very best performances I've seen from anyone. (Miles and Ravi Shanker clocked in a few). Many of the pieces started out as whisper soft ballads and then built to rock and roll intensity. (After the concert, Charles addressed the audience and reminded us that as a youth in Memphis, he played with many blues masters, including Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, Howling' Wolf, and B.B. King). They played through the changes of Autumn Leaves, without the melody, it became completely new. The final encore, requested by many in the audience, was Forest Flower. Like all forward explorers, I don't think he has played the song that made him famous for many years - like every note he plays, it was completely fresh and new. In the words of The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff: “Follow the career of Charles Lloyd, and you see a map of great jazz across half a century. His shows, full of momentum and intuition, perfectly represent the idea that the best jazz needs to be experienced live.” Charles's start in the big time was musical director for Chico Hamilton, with whom I had the privilege of playing in 1979-1980.

Sublime.  Last night Charles Lloyd performed in duet with Jason Moran as part of Moran's four night residency at SF Jazz.  There is a tradition in jazz of older musicians playing with, and championing, younger players.  Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, recorded in 1963, comes to mind.  Moran has been a regular member of Lloyd's New Quartet since 2007, and is 39 years old to Lloyd's 76.  Yet they play as equals, although it is unlikely Moran will achieve the cultural and artistic significance of Lloyd.  "Play it Brother"  Lloyd would whisper to Moran  throughout the set.  Featuring material  from their 2013 duo recording Hagar's Farm, the played primarily ballads.  Mood Indigo, Bess You Is My Woman Now, You've Changed, and the Brian Wilson penned, God Only Knows.  Moran plays with restraint, which lets Lloyd, and his almost supernatural command of technique, soar.  Among the handful of the world's greatest musicians, in any genre, Lloyd encompasses the entire history of the music, and of many other cultures as well.  Born in Memphis in 1938, Lloyd listened to Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young.  Moving to LA to study at USC, he played with Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Charlie Hayden, Eric Dolphy, and many other members of the West Coast scene.  In 1960 he became music director of Chico Hamilton's group, with whom I had the privilege of playing with many years later.  Charles Lloyd is probably my biggest musical influence.  Forest Flower, recorded live in 1966 at the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was 14, and already a jazz fan, took the music to a whole new level.  His young, unknown pianist, Keith Jarret, had a unique harmonic pallete that for some reason I immediately identified with.  And the rythym section of Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee, were revolutionary.  I got to see them at Fillmore West.  In the early parts of the concert last evening, the audience was quiet after solos, not wanting to break the spell.  "Georgeous!", a guy behind me whispered.  But from the middle of the show onward there was applause after each brilliant solo, both Jason's and Charle's, as they flew to ever greater heights.  Sublime indeed.     

I certainly have a lot of great music to be thankful for this year.  Sunday night, the last night of his SF Jazz residency, Jason Moran played a solo set, and then introduced the duo of Randy Weston and Billy Harper.  A 2010 MacArthur fellow, the 37 year old Moran is at the forefront of modern music, and is perhaps the most gifted pianist of his generation.  Paying homage to Monk and Ellington and Weston, he has forged his own style at once modern (he plays along with pre-recorded samples on some songs - delta blues to Pigmeat Markham!) while demonstrating a remarkable depth of knowledge of the many branches of jazz piano, from bebop to stride. 

Randy Weston, an NEA 2001 Jazz Master, has combined a love of Monk and modern music with a profound love and curiosity of African culture.  Billy Harper has been my (and Baron Shul's) favorite tenor player since we first heard his Black Saint recording in 1975.  Weston and Harper together are powerful, spiritual, lyrical, and breathtaking. Like Ellington, they can go from penthouse blues to rent party inside of one phrase.


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