I’ve been a Dylan freak since I was 15, and I’ll die one. I’m probably going too far here, but without him the best things in my adult life (teaching, the woman I chose for my wife, this life-long quest for knowledge) would never have materialized. I know I’d have been less happy in my alternate lives. The guy aggravates the crap out of me as well–I’m convinced that he’s the least annoying naked emperor around–but that’s just because he’s taught me not to accept bullshit. I bring this up because today I was finally able to dive a little more deeply into unsung reedman Michael Moore’s three successful attempts to prove Dylan’s music has modern jazz applications, one of which I’ve owned in a digital version for awhile, but all of which I just bought from separate Discogs vendors because I sense I may have few chances later. See, I told you I was a freak: Dylan? Jazz? YEAH! What Moore, bassist Lindsay Horner, and percussionist Michael Vatcher do is gamely improvise structures around snatches of melodies from the likes of “Dear Landlord,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blind Willie McTell,” and “Boots of Spanish Leather,” then pretty consistently replicate the mood suggested by the songs’ lyrics when they cut loose within the structures. Moore, on clarinets, saxes, and bells, is the main soloist, evoking klezmer, British Isles folk, Arabia, and the blues. The commitment of the musicians to the concept pays off over and over again, and even when they don’t quite hit the mark, they sound like they’re making a gauzy B+ ECM record–no shame in that. Most important, they honor Dylan’s achievement and even make a case for extending it–when’s the last time you heard anyone raving about the man’s melodies, or nominating him for a spot in jazz’s standard repertoire?
Of the three the first, 2000’s The Music of Bob Dylan, is the best, taking the most chances with song selection (even covering a Dylan cover) and varying the attack more frequently. The third, Ships with Tattooed Sails (2003), with outstanding guest work by guitarist Bill Frissell, is next, and Floater, also from 2000, a bit too often lives up to its name but is still strong. For those of you who are free jazz shy, first, note my mention of structure above, and second, the songs’ duration seldom extend beyond five minutes–this unit’s focused beyond the standard. Also, Dylanophiles can amuse themselves by listening without the track list and trying to identify the songs; it’s not hard, but it’s not always easy–and it’s rewarding. The trio takes the original material and makes something new, and moving, out of it.
You can also listen to the entirety of the group’s first record:
Speaking of making something new out of Dylanology, Nicole and I thrilled to these great new live performances by Bettye LaVette of songs from her new album of Bob interps, Things Have Changed:
Still hooked on pianistics!
The Ultimate Bud Powell