Austin, Texas, SXSW 2005
Cedar Street Courtyard, Wednesday, March 16
On a particularly chilly night in this open-air courtyard, Jason Moran came prepared. Nattily attired in a cream-colored overcoat with matching fedora and red scarf, the Houston-born, NYC-based pianist was the attraction for jazz fans at a music festival that's historically paid only passing attention to the genre. For the 100 or so diehards bundled together in front of the stage, Moran's three tune, 30-minute set was revelatory. His new Blue Note album, Same Mother, explores the relationship of jazz and blues. Following a short, prerecorded intro to his group Bandwagon, Moran plunged right in, opening with "Blackout," a blues shuffle. With guitarist Marvin Sewell augmenting the pianist's longtime rhythm section, drummer Nasheet Waits and electric bassist Tarus Mateen, the quartet dug a deep Southwest groove to start. Gradually, Moran, playing an upright piano, took the music increasingly outside and away from its blues moorings, only to have Sewell lead the band back to the basics with his boogie chords. Waits and Mateen demonstrated why they're the hippest young rhythm section in jazz, with their intricate and mesmerizing interplay that allows Moran to really open the music up. Which is precisely what happened next with Moran and Sewell, on acoustic guitar, beginning a bluesy musical conversation that quickly evolved into a sprawling and intense free-jazz explosion. Moran brought it back down, inviting folks to dance to the set's closer, a funky, cerebral exploration of Afrika Bambaataa's hip-hop anthem "Planet Rock." It was enough to warm anyone's soul.