An artist's importance is occasionally best summarised as much by a gesture or statement as it is a performance. In the case of Texan pianist Jason Moran, the indication of a mind that was liable to think off the beaten track came when he described his excitement in hearing the "ghettoness" of Rachmaninov. He heard elemental echoes of hip hop in a symphony. He said it neither for effect nor provocation. Moran's perceptive take on European classical music and African-American pop culture as well as art music is a key aspect of his creative persona, one in which the blend of sophistication and ruggedness, beauty and brutality, has made for compelling music since he debuted alongside Greg Osby some 14 years ago.
Although he has excelled as a solo pianist and octet leader, Moran has produced much of his best work when backed just by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, and their debut as a trio, 2000's Facing Left, can justifiably be dubbed a modern classic. Ten, a title that marks a decade's worth of the band's existence, is a typically bold expression of Moran's multifaceted personality and the chemistry between the pianist and his accompanists, both of whom have mastered that elusive skill of bringing sufficient detail to a piece without overshadowing its essential character. Although Moran's music appears to largely hover in the space between the post-bop and avant-garde schools of jazz, he nonetheless underwrites the entirety of his work with the blues, but graduates the explicitness to which this is done, slyly emphasising the heritage as much through rhythm as harmony.
The rub is that the group's approach to the beat has a brilliant flexibility that gives its sense of time a looseness, a relaxed nonchalance, without necessarily dragging behind the pulse. Monk, whose Crepuscule With Nellie is reprised to highlight its puckish, teasing sensuality, had that in spades. As did Jaki Byard, one of Moran's important early mentors. Moran's debt to these founding fathers is clear enough, but he brings his own ideas to their enduring creative database. He has his own modernism.