Sooner or later, the minds behind the Spoleto Pageant USA Wells Fargo Jazz Collection will need to have thought, “Jason Moran.”
They might have stopped there and had a profitable, headlining present. The pianist/composer and former MacArthur Fellow has greater than a dozen solo albums and is without doubt one of the most prolific and revolutionary voices in modern jazz.
However that may have been too straightforward, and too apparent. Friday night time’s “Two Wings” efficiency — the brainchild of Moran and the multifaceted mezzo-soprano Alicia Corridor Moran, to whom he’s married — offered us with one thing way more fascinating.
The occasion (“live performance” is insufficient, for causes that can turn into apparent) requested us to think about jazz historical past in dialog with African American historical past as instructed by different genres, musical and in any other case. It was a vivid testomony to what Amiri Baraka referred to as the “altering identical” of Black American music, during which the unifying thread of resistance, artistic adaptation to dire circumstances and infinite experimentation runs by expressions from rhythm and blues to free jazz.
The Morans first offered “Two Wings” in Spring 2019 at Carnegie Corridor, and performances adopted in Washington, Chicago and Hamburg, Germany, earlier than the pandemic foreclosed on the potential for additional excursions. Whereas a number of the skeleton of the present has remained the identical (centered largely across the Morans’ personal compositions and life tales), it appears to have been conceived as a versatile, virtually modular idea celebrating the multifaceted and numerous experiences of Blackness, displacement and migration in twentieth century America.
Closely indebted to Isabel Wilkerson’s masterful historical past of “The Heat of Different Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Nice Migration,” the New York premiere interspersed readings of that ebook by its writer with different performances, together with a mix sermon/gospel efficiency from Pastor Snokie Norful and a chamber ensemble led by Cuban American composer/conductor Tania León. In Chicago, they have been joined by native literary hero Margo Jefferson (“Negroland: A Memoir”) and younger ensembles from the Kenwood Academy.
None of these performers made it on the Spoleto program, sadly. However Friday’s efficiency did show that the Morans are keenly conscious of Charleston’s place on this lengthy and complex story.
Alicia Corridor Moran spoke from stage with seen emotion about having seen Spoleto’s 2016 “Porgy and Bess” manufacturing right here, and the night’s musical picks have been anchored by narrator Julie Sprint studying from her novel “Daughters of the Mud,” which chronicles the lives of Gullah protagonists, that are formed by strikes from St. Helena Island to Charleston and Harlem.
The musicians for the Spoleto efficiency included straight-ahead jazz luminaries similar to vocalist Sharón Clark and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, but additionally a wider forged of characters together with the Imani Winds, a first-rate woodwind quintet of the Morans’ former Manhattan College of Music class, and a string ensemble that added depth and shade by imaginative preparations contributed by violinist Juliette Jones.
Whereas jazz was, naturally, a lingua franca for a lot of this music, a number of the most compelling and weird music on this system got here in items from exterior of the style, within the type of works by African American artwork music composers.
This system opened with a heat, intimate and affecting efficiency of Florence Worth’s artwork music setting of a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem by the Moran duo. Two items for solo string devices by New York native Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson made me marvel why his items haven’t been championed by extra modern string gamers.
Cellist Seth Parker Woods performed “Cavalry Ostinato,” Perkinson’s meditative all-pizzicato piece, whose bluesy, modal variations recalled the shut connections between early blues and the West African kora harp. Violinist Curtis Stewart adopted with a virtuosic show that shifted between down-home fiddling and chromatic double stops up and down the instrument in a sort of Paganini-meets-the-blues showpiece. Pay attention up, classical musicians: these are works that needs to be commonplace repertoire.
Each Morans additionally appeared on this system as composers. The Imani Winds carried out three actions from Jason Moran’s “Cane” suite, detailing his household’s migration from the Cane River space of Louisiana to Houston. The primary motion constructed shifting, enigmatic harmonies over the frenetically syncopated stuttering pedal tone within the bassoon. The second featured a protracted, mournfully expressive clarinet solo, and the ultimate motion included some saucy give-and-take between oboe and horn solos over a sparse tresillo groove.
Loads of the jazz repertoire was extra standard, however expertly rendered. Sharón Clark provided vocal variations of the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol basic “Caravan” and Miles Davis’s “Boplicity,” the latter of which, with added lyrics by Ray Passman, turned a mini-lecture on bop historical past, reminding us of its key gamers, hit tunes and the significance of flatted fifths.
Wycliffe Gordon’s trombone solos have been a specific excessive level. With multiphonic hums and a deft plunger mute, he made the instrument growl, whine and communicate. Jason Moran’s solo piano rendition of James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout,” a normal from the oldest of colleges, took us time touring by jazz piano kinds, drifting from the vigorous left-hand stride of the early twentieth century to moody post-bop harmonies, earlier than bringing us full circle.
Followers hoping for a musical equal of Wilkerson’s ebook, a grand grasp narrative of the Nice Migration, may need been pissed off by the artists’ steadfast rejection of that method. Asking the transient character-based snippets of Sprint’s novel to do the identical expository framing work was not all the time coherent.
Chronology, each musical and private, was combined up all through the night, with a number of the oldest materials offered final, within the type of the well-known Negro spirituals “He’s Received the Entire World In His Fingers” and “Two Wings.” The breadth and variety of this system would possibly properly have confounded viewers members unfamiliar with the broad strokes of the historical past of the Nice Migration.
However that refusal to wrap up the Black expertise in a neat bundle is, I feel, partially the purpose: “My thesis,” Alicia Corridor Moran defined close to the present’s finish, gesturing throughout the stage at her compatriots, “My thesis assertion is these individuals.”
There’s little question that “Two Wings” was a celebration of the various array of artists on the stage, and the numerous paths that introduced them there.