Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON April 2 2017
Alexander Brown of the Aexander Brow Trio;
Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music
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Jason Moran and the Bandwagon; Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music
TD Jazz Trio Series – Jason Moran and The Bandwagon & Alexander Brown Trio
The Royal Conservatory of Music continued its 5-concert TD Jazz: The Art of the Trio series last night, sponsored by TD Bank Group and Tom’s Place, with media partners NOW and Jazz FM91. Jason Moran and the Bandwagon and the Alexander Brown Trio made their debuts at Koerner Hall before a near-capacity audience.
Cuban-born trumpeter Alexander Brown Cabrera, or just Alexander Brown as he is now known in his adopted country of Canada, opened the concert and delivered a tight set of five Latin-American selections. Having lived in Canada since just 2005, Brown has in a relatively short period of time established himself as a trumpeter to be reckoned with, and he very humbly acknowledged the assistance and support that he has received from the Canadian jazz community, and in particular, his current trio bandmates, Justin Gray on electric and upright bass and Ethan Ardelli on drums, both from Toronto.
Accompanied only by bass and drums, Brown’s sonorous trumpet and flugelhorn were exposed in unusual fashion, and it made for some very compelling and elemental jazz music. Brown’s playing is clear, clean and intelligently inventive. Every note has a purpose and is never wasted. His musical ideas are thoughtful, at times intricate, and always rhythmically varied. Gray’s bass playing, whether on electric or upright, provided exactly the right foundation of support, and the richness of his solos provided a welcome balance to the dominant trumpet. Ardelli’s drumming was relaxed and deft, fitting nicely into the sonically stark quality that defined this trio. Strong communication between the members was noticeable. The highlight for this listener was a beautiful ballad called Presencia, which Brown dedicated to his Mother. We look forward to hearing the Alexander Brown Trio more often around town.
The American trio, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon, consisting of Moran at the piano, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, arrived on the Koerner Hall stage with a reputation for challenging the status quo, and they lived up to this billing. There were no bouncy toe-tappers here. Moran is an immensely talented and dynamic thinker/player, and his startling ability to alternate between the intensely introspective and the furiously violent was on display from the opening number, called Gangsterism on the Rise, from his CD entitled Same Mother. Whether performing a rollicking Monk-inspired piece like Thelonius or a classically arpeggiostic music from the documentary film, 13th, Moran’s music comes across, as he himself suggested, as a release of the built-up pressures of modern life, particularly as seen through the filter of the Afro-American experience. Moran emphasized the importance of 13th , a film that explores the "intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States … titled after the thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which … prohibited slavery” (Wikipedia). This is important context to have in order to appreciate the depth of feeling in Moran’s art.
Moran’s incorporation of modern hip-hop idioms emerges often when he is at his percussive best, sometimes karate-chopping the keyboard or exploding through improvisations with blinding speed and dexterity. Mateen and Waits were often simultaneously explosive, matching Moran’s own virtuosic imagination in their playing rather than filling supporting roles; indeed, this may have been the point in terms of the wildly abstract pressures that this trio aims to capture musically. For this listener, and I suspect many others in attendance, Moran’s spellbinding rendition of Body and Soul was a welcome release from that pressure. Based on the number of people who chose to make a quick exit at the end rather than stay for the encore, many of the more traditionally-minded jazz fans are perhaps not quite ready to jump on “the bandwagon”, but all credit to Jason Moran for showing us that great musical art is not always easy listening, nor should it be.
The next and final concert in the TD Jazz series will feature Christian McBride and Tip City & The James Gelfand Trio at Koerner Hall on Saturday, May 13th, 2017.