2015 Dark Horse Jazz Albums Part 2: Eddie Moore and Weber/Frith/Studer

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To follow up on my last post: here are the next two albums that I think deserve to be considered for 2015 year end top 10/best of lists. I don’t think they could be any more different from each other, but they are each fantastic in their own ways. If you haven’t heard either one, please check them out (clicking the titles will take you to the albums on bandcamp). And if you are a journalist or critic, definitely give each of these your attention.

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Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle – Live in Kansas City (RIK)

I gotta get this out of the way first: this cover is banging. It immediately calls to mind some of the vintage Verve record covers, but without being derivative; the addition of some light ring wear gives it the look of some of my best-loved and most-played LPs;  the design’s elegant and understated hipness give it a fresh feel; and the profile picture of Moore looks as if he is at the keys, puttin’ in work.  Give the graphic designer some. In fact, the qualities that make the cover stand out are in abundance throughout the record: Moore and company are deep into the soulful, groove-based hard bop and fusion tradition, but without being derivative; whether covering Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” or presenting an original composition, they are fresh, hip, and contemporary.

I reviewed Moore’s last album, The Freedom of Expression, for Downbeat, and while I enjoyed that strong recording very much, Live in Kansas City is even stronger. Moore and his band the Outer Circle (Adam Schlozman, guitar; DeAndre Manning, bass; Pat Adams, drums) have coalesced into a singular unit that is about as tight as it gets. They stay right in the pocket, and the groove is unflinching. What impresses me the most is just how natural and easy the music sounds. Whether it’s Moore’s piano floating above the rhythm section on “Black Narcissus,” the seamless shifts between grooves and solos during the three part suite “Kings and Queens,” or Adams’ solo over “El Ojo de la Muerte”‘s funky ostinato, it’s as if the music flows from them with almost no effort. Of course this is a ridiculous statement – it takes a lot of work and time to erase any audible indications of that work from the music. These guys have done a lot of work, and it shows.

To quote Cannonball Adderley, “Hipness is not a state of mind, it’s a fact of life. You don’t decide you’re hip. It just happens that way.” Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle are hip. And so is this record. These are facts of life. Go grab Live in Kansas City.

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Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer – It Rolls (Intakt)

The Swiss label Intakt has released a bounty of great albums this year and I could have picked any number of them for this list. I chose It Rolls (also be sure to check out the new releases on Intakt from Oliver Lake/William Parker, the Schlippenbach Trio, Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House, Irene Schweitzer/Han Bennink, and the Tom Rainey Trio) for two reasons: first, I was immediately struck by Weber, Frith, and Studer’s invention, fearlessness, and their range of colors and textures; and second, before this album I was completely unfamiliar with Weber and Studer, so I wanted to dig in deeper. And the more I dug, the more I found.

Out of all the ways to go about playing jazz, free improvisation may be the riskiest. The odds of free improv collapsing into sad cliches and a directionless, shapeless mush of repeating sameness are great. But here Weber, Frith, and Studer beat the odds, offering just under an hour of dynamic and startling music. Listening to this trio is like being an American raised on grid systems trying to navigate her way around the streets of a European metropolis: predictability gives way to uncertainty, unease, and disorientation; unexpected turns and odd intersections lead to dead ends, surprising new paths and sights, and the strange joy of being lost and not knowing how to find the way home.

Perhaps the most striking element of It Rolls is the massive diversity in sounds this trio unearths and the ways the atmosphere continuously morphs and evolves. Frith, of course, is a magician, and at times his guitar sounds like any number of synths, a flute, a howling wind, and on and on – there’s even a bit of quasi-country twang. And his more percussive pops, scrapes, blips, and crunches are the perfect compliment to Studer, who sounds like he leaves no part of his drum kit, which includes bells, gongs, and other auxiliary percussion, unexplored. Juxtapose this against Weber – whose touch and dexterous facility confirms her classical training – and one encounters a stimulating mix of contemporary chamber music elegance and abstraction, electric skronk, and unabashed inquisitiveness. At times serene, uncomfortable, exhilarating  – and even horrifying (“Spieglein an der Wand” scares the shit out of me), It Rolls displays the the trust  Weber, Frith, and Studer have in each other to go out on a limb knowing their bandmates will be right behind them. That combined with their individuality and courage make for a thrilling album.

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