Sunday, May 05, 2013

Jason Moran (sidebar) - DownBeat

On top of interviewing Charles Lloyd, I got to conduct a phone interview with pianist Jason Moran.

Pianist Jason Moran has been with Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet since 2007. He broke onto the scene ten years earlier, while in still in college, applying the lessons he had learned from pianists like Andrew Hill and Jaki Byard to saxophonist Greg Osby’s band. Since then he has built a considerable reputation as a bandleader with his trio Bandwagon, has regularly topped DownBeat polls since 2003 and was awarded a half million dollar MacArthur Fellowship three years ago.

Despite all the accolades, Moran is not always searching for the spotlight. “I felt this thing happening where I wasn’t getting to play with other musicians that I wanted to play with,” says Moran. “I just wasn’t called because I was a bandleader but I love a supporting role.”After getting back into playing as a sideman with musicians like Don Byron, Moran joined forces with Lloyd through his high school classmate, drummer Eric Harland.

Getting back into the sideman role came easily to Moran and he wasn’t daunted by the history of Lloyd’s piano bench. “When I got the gig, I only listened to a little bit of his earlier material because I thought the way Keith Jarrett was playing on there was so free and open. I was like ‘that means I can do anything.’ Plus, Charles is free and open.”

That limitless feeling has paid off with their partnership entering its seventh year and a newly recorded duo album. “In a duo, you’re naked,” says Moran. “My role is to deal with the space that the sound has. In one degree, I might say ‘I should keep a tempo together for a sustained amount of time’ but keeping tempo does not necessarily define a band’s sound. Making music that moves physically and emotionally, that’s what the goal is. The beautiful thing about it is that we don’t really have to explain much to each other. My main job in the duo setting is to create an orbit for the music and if I want to, to create the black hole as well.”

Moran credits Santa Barbara with contributing immensely to that sense of telepathy. “Charles, when he is in his home environment, is in a much more calm space. I live in New York and it’s a rat race there. Literally. It makes me really appreciate going to California. It’s a nice space for me to actually breathe, to inhale and exhale.  It really seemed quite right for the music we were going to play so we could lean back into some of these songs. When we turn up the heat, the heat is a different kind of fire there.”

Often that kind of fire is a different approach to what Moran would do with his own ensemble. Playing with Lloyd has forced Moran to get back to the roots of jazz accompaniment, frequently digging into straight-ahead ballads on this most recent release. “You have to really lay down the carpet with Charles,” says Moran. “And it has to be a plush carpet for him to walk on.”

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