There is a lot of talk out there about music. A lot of it demonstrates how hard it is to say something worthwhile about music. Now and then, though, I find something that lodges in my brain and, without my realizing it, influences my way of listening for years afterwards.
For instance, sometime in the early 00’s a free local magazine ran an interview with a jazz mallet player named Dave Samuels. He mentioned that it was tricky soloing over the simple vamps of jazz-rock because he had gotten used to dealing with the “beauty of a chord progression” in bop.
I thought about the beauty of chord progressions when I received a new CD, 4B by James Moody. The label, IPO, was a new one for me, but they’ve presented this CD with the quiet dignity befitting a player who’s been around for a while, and may not be available for many more of these outings.
No disc with “Take the ‘A’ Train” as its first cut is likely to be a startlingly original statement. Many of the other tracks (“Along Came Betty,” “But Not for Me”) also have considerable jazz frequent-flyer miles. With Moody and this rhythm section (pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman, drummer Lewis Nash), that isn’t an issue. The value is in what they find in this familiar terrain.
To give one example, I looked at the liner notes and discovered that Moody and Barron were referencing “52nd Street Theme” in that first track. This prompted a search for “52nd Street Theme,” and once I knew that melody, some new insights about what they were up to on this disc became available.
Moody’s playing is less radical than what I saw Sonny Rollins do two months ago. Still, each track has a steady flow of information in each solo: a simple melody leads to a rapid chromatic statement, a stream of eighth notes hits a sudden lag. On a couple tracks Moody makes a sudden exit, leaving a few beats open before Barron takes the cue to solo. Barron’s improvising language is a tad more modern, but the rhythm section doesn’t strain to bring this music into the present. For chord progressions with enough richness, it isn’t necessary.
Samuels’s quote helped me understand this music a bit more. Unlike him, though, I have always had an easy time with improv over one or two chords. That is why I am feeling the pull to check out Phish’s current round of shows, despite the fact that most of their explorations are over equally familiar landscapes.
James Moody’s CD, though, shows the value of a more aged brand of music. The three sidemen are younger, and will be likely to keep this style going for a few more years, or decades. One hopes Moody will also be capable of it.