Only an artist like Jason Moran could pair a sequence of gospel chord changes with rubber-band bass line, push the rhythm to the point of entropy, and call it “Gangsterism Over 10 Years.” Such is the centerpiece of his new album Ten, which marks a full, fruitful decade with the Bandwagon trio, featuring drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen. Moran is a gangster in his own right: elegant on the surface, violent underneath. His songs can start off clean and tightly formatted (“Gangsterism,” “Blue Blocks”) and devolve into free-wheeling meditations.
Ten is beautiful and savagely complex. The pianist’s first album in four years, it features previously commissioned works like “RFK for Apartheid” and “Feedback Pt. 2.” The musicians have a chemistry that befits longtime collaborators. Waits and Mateen know intuitively how to lock in a groove. Moran can be a maximalist player, so the others give him plenty of room. He mixes genre without compunction. His versions of the Thelonious Monk ballad “Crepuscule with Nelly” and Leonard Bernstein‘s “Big Stuff” are the album’s highlights. “Feedback” sets Waits’ brush-sticks against a backdrop of computer-generated sounds. Supposedly a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, it sounds more like a nocturne. Stride tune “Old Babies” builds on a sampled recording — of an infant singing the blues.
For all the long-form experimentation, Ten is an easier listen than many of Moran’s previous efforts. The tension between structure and anarchy keeps it interesting. And gangster. (Blue Note)