|Jazz pianist Jason Moran|
The Blue Note recording artist pianist Jason Moran inarguably has one of the most inventive minds in contemporary jazz. Never one to think inside the box. Moran was in Detroit Friday evening part of the Paradise Jazz Series. In a 70 minute set, Moran paid tribute to the iconic jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, who would’ve been 100 last year. The concert wasn’t a run-of-the-mill tribute. Moran included video and audio footage of Monk speaking about his life and his work, which made it appear as if Monk’s spirit was on the stage with Moran’s band. Moran also included some biographical information about himself and his affinity for Monk’s legacy. For the tribute, Moran turned his longstanding trio Bandwagon into an octet, and the band performed cuts from Monk’s classic 1959 album “Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall”. Moran opened with a solo rendition of “Thelonious”. Then he brought out his band saxophonists JD Allen and Immanuel Wilkins, bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Eric McPherson, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Frank Lacy, and tuba player Bob Stewart. Many noted jazz musicians the world over have tried their hands at Monk’s music with varying degrees of success. Moran has an intimate understanding of Monk’s work as if Monk set Moran down and explain the inner workings of his music point by point. All concert long, Moran started the music as Monk originally conceived it. Then Moran added his own splashes of brilliance and color via myriad tempo, rhythmic, and mood changes. There’re crowd-pleasing solos by Lacy, Allen, and McPherson throughout the performance. The moments of the concert that most likely played over and over in the audience’s heads driving home were the band’s reworking of “Little Rootie Tootie,” and “Crepuscule with Nellie”. Near the end of the latter cut, the band turned Monk’s tribute to his wife into a blues. The unfortunate thing about the evening was the house was only half-full owing to the nine inches of snow that hit Detroit and the surrounding counties. The people who chose to stay home missed one of the best concerts in the Paradise Jazz Series’ recent history. Even Moran’s encore was outside the box. The band marched through the crowd, leading the crowd into the lobby where the band played an encore. Afterwards, Moran mingled, signed autographs, and snapped selfies as if anxious to greet each concert goer who braved the inclement weather to experience his performance.