A lot of times these days events advertised as jazz festivals have only a nodding acquaintance with the concept. For example a local "jazz festival" in Silver Spring, MD last Saturday was headlined by Aaron Neville, a great singer without doubt but hardly a jazz guy. There was another jazz festival closer to me in Rosslyn, VA the same day that really fitknew what it was about featuring acts like Jason Moran and Tierney Sutton.
The show was held in a lovely outdoor park at the foot of Key Bridge which is literally a walk away from the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. There were the sort of distractions that can come at these outdoor events like planes flying overhead, traffic noise and conversations from people obilvious to the music but that didn't really hurt my enjoyment of things. The opening act, the Afro Bop Alliance, didn't do much for me as all Latin jazz groups tend to sound alike to me at this point. Then came one of the people I came out to see, pianist Jason Moran and his trio, the Bandwagon.
Moran has been acclaimed for some time as one of the most important younger pianists out there, someone who takes influences from all styles of music as well as art and other disciplines and, with the other members of his trio, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, works them into a thrilling stew that constantly shifts mood and time, working in piano styles from stride to swing to free with amazing fluidity. His chopping and rolling was well supported by his long time rhythm mates, especially Waits who in his solo spots, established himself as one of the killer modern drummers. Moran used some taped music to introduce a couple of pieces, one a Billie Holiday song, the other, a 1905 Bert Williams recording of "Nobody". His allegiance to the Jaki Byards and Thelonious Monks of the world is well known but here was Moran going back over a hundred years to give respect to one of the first great African-American performers. That kind of embrace of history is what made his performance so dazzling.
Moran's trio was followed by another highly touted piano trio, The Bad Plus, known for their rockish rhythms and their covers of the likes of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Iron Man". I appreciate what they do and their pianist Ethan Iverson shows he knows his music in his blog writing but at this concert I couldn't warm to them. With drummer Dave King often taking the lead role and Iverson content to vamp repeatedly in the background, this sounded more to me like prog rock without the syntthesizers and guitar solos, a music that pushed mechanically instead of cutting loose with the organic rolling flow of Moran's work. Still there was a lot of loud applause at their set and a lot of the younger people at the show got up to leave after they finished. I almost did but I was glad I stayed.
I had seen Tierney Sutton's name around before but not paid too much attention to her. Saturday I thought "Just another swoony saloon singer doing standards. I'll listen to her first song, then leave." Thirty seconds after she started performing I knew I was staying for her entire set.
Tierney Sutton is one of those singers who takes the Great American Songbook and puts it through a Cuisinart. Fronting the trio she has worked with for 17 years, she sings in a waling incantory style like Sheila Jordan turning her familiar material inside out. Fast songs are done slow, slow songs are speeded up, and she stretches "Get Happy" out into a doomy monotone that sounds cut from a Nirvana album. On this day she and her excellent band pushed and pulled their way through songs like "Blue Skies", "Fever", "Summertime", Something Cool" and "My Man's Gone Now" in imaginative and sometimes ballsy arrangements. I found a new singer to go crazy over Saturday.
Here are a couple of clips of Moran and Tierney from recent years. First Moran and the Bandwagon doing their slippery eel stride thing in Brazil in 2003. Watch Nasheet Waits kick butt and take names.
Then Tierney Sutton and her band running the changes on "Route 66" and doing their "chimes of doom" version of "Get Happy" in San Diego in 2007. Sutton was wearing different clothes Saturday of course but there was the same set up of her sitting on a stool in front the band. Pianist Christian Jacob gets a very cool solo here.