REVIEW: Jason Moran – Wind at Milton Court (2016 EFG LJF)

Jason Moran's Wind at Milton Court
Photo credit Paul Wood
Jason Moran – Wind
(Milton Court, 18 November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

It was clear from the off this wasn’t your regular jazz gig. Those assembled in a well-filled Milton hall viewed a stage spanned by three lightweight marquees. Would they draw back the fabric? Nope: the 11-piece band played behind a semi-translucent layer of fabric, allowing hints and glimpses of the performers. It was, Jason Moran explained nicely at the end, an acknowledgment of the city of Wroclaw, where such things are sold in the market, and a gesture toward overhearing, to picking up understandings from mixed dialects, thinly veiled accents.

This was more Moran the composer-conceptualist rather than keyboard maestro, responding to a commission from the current European City of culture’s Jazztopad festival – where the piece had premiered the preceding evening – and the Polish Cultural Institute in London. That gave the chance to write for a larger ensemble: Moran’s regular trio joined by a guitarist and a venturesome band of Polish players. The result was visually as well as musically appealing. Clever lighting made up for the lack of direct engagement with the players – with now one, then another musician highlighted, shadow-puppet style, and all seen against a giant fabric backdrop which appeared as a moving waterfall of lace.

It was a neat complement to the music, an unbroken hour-long sequence, positively symphonic in ambition, and absorbing from the plaintive opening theme for strings and horns to the softly chiming guitar chords at the close. Moran blended jazz elements – a shuffle with horn riffs redolent of Mingus, a free-blowing passage, some trumpet and trombone solos emerging from the mix – with engaging orchestral writing. This was not piano trio augmented but a fully integrated ensemble, delivering the mostly mid-tempo, slightly sour-sweet themes with conviction. The transitions between the successive, varied episodes, were seamless, the individual contributions often inspired, and Moran at the keyboard and Nasheet Waits on drums, whose shadow-play was a constant marvel to behold, held the whole piece together.

It’s a complex, absorbing work which would need revisiting to appreciate all its virtues, but on this hearing an impressive response to a commission and a rich reward for all the work that goes into arranging such international and, as it turned out, quasi-multi-media presentations – this one was three years in the making, Moran said. Not your regular jazz gig: and that’s one of the things festivals are for.

Personnel

Jason Moran – piano
Tarus Mateen – bass
Nasheet Waits – drums
Marvin Sewell - guitar
Piotr Damasiewicz – trumpet
Piotr Wróbel – bass trombone
Dawid Lubowicz – violin
Mateusz Smoczyński – violin
Krzysztof Lenczowski – cello
Marta Niedzwiecka – baroque organ
Szymon Kelkowicki - french horn

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