13 June 2008


Stanton Moore Trio
Emphasis! On Parenthesis

Before we begin, I would like to share one of my more mundane conundrums (or is it conundra? Wait, there's another one...). I have a minor compulsion to categorize and label my music collection on iTunes. This compulsion is especially acute when it comes to my jazz collection. All my music is classified, besides the usual artist and album fields, by genre, subgenre, and year recorded. When I can find the information, I also list recording personnel in the comments field. I spent the better part of a year (in 15-minute sessions whenever I had a free moment at home) recording this information on my pre-iTunes music. I tell you this to introduce this review because, when I first got Stanton Moore's new album, I had no idea how it fit into my categories. Is it Jamband/Jazz or Jazz/Fusion? Perhaps there is some other category that fits better (Funk?), I'm not sure yet. I have yet to assign this album any labels, and it is killing me and my perfect little system.

Since Miles Davis began infusing his music with rock and funk beats, hiring guitarists, and playing the Fillmore in the late 1960s, the debate over jazz fusion has evolved into a somewhat fruitless series of accusations, in which more traditionally-minded musicians and critics label music that strays too far from The Jazz Tradition as nonjazz, while more inclusive observers argue that boundary-stretching artists like Medeski Martin & Wood are just as much jazz musicians as Dave Holland or James Carter. Enter Stanton Moore. As drummer for the popular New Orleans band Galactic, as well as a leader of side projects like Garage a Trois, Moore sits firmly in the New Orleans funk tradition typified by the Meters. However, his mostly-instrumental solo albums frequently veer into jazz territory, evoking the more groove-oriented soul jazz of the early 1960's (think Jimmy Smith and The 3 Sounds) while retaining the hard-driving backbeat of Moore's work with Galactic.

Such is the backdrop of his latest solo offering, Emphasis! On Parenthesis. Moore teams up with frequent collaborators Will Bernard and Robert Walter to lay down some groove-oriented acid jazz (to use a somewhat outdated term). Moore and his band lean heavily on a series of riffs which, stitched together, comprise his tunes. This method of composition is similar to the riff-based blues of the early Count Basie band. It is there that the similarities end. Bernard's style is more dependent on Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and other blues-rock guitarists. Walter, as well, takes his cues from the blues-rock tradition which influenced bands of both the British Invasion and the post-Grateful Dead jamband scene. It probably makes more sense to classify this group as a jamband, rather than a jazz trio. Both labels underscore the significance of improvisation to this group, but to call the trio a jazz band would imply a certain sense of sophistication and adventurousness that Moore and company lack.

Simply put, this album lacks adventure. After listening to it multiple times, I was left with more than a few melodies stuck in my head, but with few, if any, of the moments of surprise and joy that I hope a new jazz album will bring. This is not a swipe at the skills of these three musicians. Moore has an outstanding sense of rhythm, and can lay it on thick while still keeping the sound of the band light. Walter and Bernard follow Moore's cues, and keep the sound of the band from plodding into the ground. Despite their technical skills, though, the music seems a little tired. On my first listen, I felt like I had heard these riffs before. In the hands of artists, though, familiar melodies can lead to new and intriguing possibilities - think of Jason Moran's reworking of James P. Johnson's "Modernistic" on the album of the same title. Here, though, Moore's well-worn funk licks fall short of ecstasy, residing instead in the limbo between transcendent jazz and contrived funk.

Track Listing: (Late Night at The) Maple Leaf; (Proper) Gander; Wissions (Of Vu); (Sifting Through The) African Diaspora; Over (Compensatin'); (Smell My) Special Ingredients; (I Have) Super Strength; (Who Ate The) Layer Cake?; Thanks! (Again); (Put on Your) Big People Shoes; (Here Come) The Brown Police
Personell: Stanton Moore, drums; Will Bernard, guitar; Robert Walter, keyboards

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