Press Review – September 9, 2016
A longtime member of ex-Pat Metheny Group drummer Paul Wertico's trio, enough has already been written about John Moulder's double life as jazz guitarist and ordained priest. Bifröst is Moulder's follow-up to the ambitious and eclectic Trinity (Origin, 2006), where the guitarist's spirituality became a touchstone for music ranging from the ethereal to the grounded, and from elegant folklore to potent, angst-driven fusion. What makes Bifröst even more satisfying is its narrowing of focus down from a larger cast of characters to a quintet, bringing together old friends Wertico and fretless electric bassist Brian Peters with new Norwegian ones, double-bassist Arild Andersen and saxophonist Bendik Hofseth.
That Andersen collaborated, early in his career, with Terje Rypdal makes this transatlantic first encounter all the more successful,
That Andersen collaborated, early in his career, with Terje Rypdal makes this transatlantic first encounter all the more successful, given that Moulder's visceral, overdriven and often whammy bar-centric electric playing is unmistakably influenced by the Norwegian guitar legend. And while he certainly possesses his own voice, the sound of another Norwegian notable and early Andersen cohort, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, is an equal touchstone in Hofseth's tone and approach.
Here, Moulder's high energy electric is juxtaposed and combined with six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars to to create a context that hints, in some ways, back to Ralph Towner and Solstice (ECM, 1975). Bifröst's opening title track, in fact, speaks deeply of Towner's harmonic language and, with Wertico's light cymbal work and Hofseth's soaring lines, could easily fall into similar territory were it not for Andersen's in-the-gut double-bass and Moulder's searing electric solo. Moulder's serpentine melody weaves around ambiguous harmonies, as the piece builds dramatically—and inevitably.
Moulder may drive some of Bifröst with hard-edged electricity, but he's also capable of softer lyricism; his solo acoustic intro to the ultimately more buoyant "Watch Your Step"—where his acoustic melody is bolstered in strong, lilting unison by Hofseth and Peters— sounding like an outtake from Metheny's One Quiet Night (Nonesuch, 2003). "Echoes of Home," driven gently by Wertico's percussion, is another acoustic feature, with Moulder recalling Windham Hill's Alex DeGrassi, but with greater depth.
Andersen's remarkable combination of deep, resonant tone and lithe dexterity is a fundamental throughout the disc, with his solo intro to "Magical Space" a highlight as he builds phrase-after-phrase over a looped chordal wash. Once the group enters, setting a dark context for solos by Moulder (again, on acoustic) and Hofseth, its temporal elasticity recalls ECM classics like Bill Connors' Of Mist and Melting (1978). Wertico's restraint here is as impressive as his more powerful bent on the closing part of Moulder's episodic "Time Being," a 15-minute epic that ends with a repeating series of ascending chords, bringing the album to a strong and definitive close.
Quietly, and with little fuss, Moulder has built his voice as writer and performer, and a rare ability to conceptualize broader narratives. With Bifröst he leverages Trinity's ambitious nature into an album that may appear smaller in focus, but is ultimately even more expansive in overall sound, vision and chemistry.
Track Listing: Bifröst; Watch Your Step (introduction); Watch Your Step; Magical Space (introduction); Magical Space; Echoes of Home; Cold Sea Triptych: Part 1; Cold Sea Triptych: Part 2; Cold Sea Triptych: Part 3; Time Being.
Personnel: John Moulder: electric guitars, 12-string and 6-string acoustic guitars; Bendik Hofseth: tenor saxophone; Arild Andersen: double-bass; Paul Wertico: drums, percussion; Brian Peters: electric fretless bass, programming.
Sacred music does not typically unfold in gritty jazz clubs.
But considering that the headliner at the Green Mill over the weekend was a Catholic priest, the rarefied choice of material seemed thoroughly appropriate.
Though guitarist John Moulder has been performing and recording steadily here for the past couple of decades, he achieved an artistic high point in 2006 when he released "Trinity" (Origin Records). Like Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts and John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Moulder's "Trinity" addressed themes of faith and divinity, in a jazz context.
This often exalted music dominated Moulder's first set Friday night, a fine choice considering the holiday season that approaches.
In "Trinity," Moulder explores the deepest themes imaginable.
In "Trinity," Moulder explores the deepest themes imaginable. Movements such as "Chaos," "Creation" and "Resurrection" attest to the breadth of the composer's vision and the intellectual rigor of his best work.
If the soaring melodic lines and unstoppable rhythmic sway of "Creation" established the quality of Moulder's writing, the music that followed underscored his gifts as improviser.
Even when Moulder was playing full-tilt, producing fast-flying lines of considerable complexity, the easy flow of his ideas and luster of his sound were unmistakable.
When Moulder and his quartet ventured into the climactic "Freedom" movement of "Trinity," the musicmaking took on a New Orleans hue. Its second-line parade rhythms and feverish blues exhortations underscored Moulder's message: that all-American jazz can express divine aspirations as eloquently as any genre (if not more so).
Among the evening's other highlights was a newly penned ballad, "About Us," for which Moulder put down his electric guitar and went acoustic. Who would have guessed that a guitarist who pours so much fire-and-brimstone into his plugged-in work could also play with such sensitivity and grace?
In this piece, and others, Moulder benefited from the work of Chicago drummer-percussionist Paul Wertico, whose keen sense of time and color distinguish him from most of his peers.
John Moulder – September 21, 2016
Though John Moulder has been recording and performing for twenty years now, his name recognition hasn’t risen to that of the top ranks of jazz guitarists. It really should. No exaggeration. His most recent album, The Eleventh Hour: Live at the Green Mill, is proof of that. Apparently the result of serendipity, the album exists because recording engineer Ken Christianson suggested recording Moulder’s quintet at Chicago’s Green Mill during a scheduled engagement. First of all, kudos to Christianson for a fine job of sound engineering, catching the nuances of tone, the crispness of articulation and the cohesiveness of interaction, even while recording crowd response at the end of each piece. For that reason alone, The Eleventh Hour represents an excellent live album.
Though John Moulder has been recording and performing for twenty years now, his name recognition hasn’t risen to that of the top ranks of jazz guitarists. It really should. No exaggeration. His most recent album, The Eleventh Hour: Live at the Green Mill, is proof of that. Apparently the result of serendipity, the album exists because recording engineer Ken Christianson suggested recording Moulder’s quintet at Chicago’s Green Mill during a scheduled engagement. First of all, kudos to Christianson for a fine job of sound engineering, catching the nuances of tone, the crispness of articulation and the cohesiveness of interaction, even while recording crowd response at the end of each piece. For that reason alone, The Eleventh Hour represents an excellent live album. Blending performance and reaction into a memorable synthesis, the album adds another level of excitement to compositions that have appeared on Moulder’s previous CD’s. But the music itself, live or in a studio, distinguishes the project. Moulder plays with experienced confidence, not only altering technique to achieve effect, but also creating mood. Whether bending or distorting tone or playing with acoustic clarity, Moulder pulls in the audience with his heightening layers of dynamism. Also, Moulder works with like-minded musicians who share his vision and his sound. All but saxophonist Geof Bradfield have worked with Moulder on previous projects, but still Bradfield contributes sonic depth and naturalistic verisimilitude on bass clarinet. The quintet does perform as a single unit, achieving a totality of effect that transcends that of a single instrument. While Moulder is setting the stage for a narrative-like creation with his haunting reverb and ethereal melody for “Creation,” Larry Gray grounds the motion with his steady but understated bass lines. Though playing another chorded instrument, pianist Jim Trompeter has adapted his technique to complement Moulder’s by splashing broad chords from both hands to add color and harmonic density as the guitarist solos on, say, “Cold Sea Triptych.” Moulder’s style and Moulder’s group are fully developed and achieve instantaneous audience response to a modally oriented composition in five-four like “African Sunset.” “Eleventh Hour” too proceeds in stately, deliberate, forceful fashion from modal improvisational opportunities in moderatetempo groups of eleven beats. Not an experiment nor cleverness, “Eleventh Hour” nonetheless grips the audience with passionate expressiveness. “Magical Space” investigates the nooks and crannies of beauty as Moulder develops a fully realized haunting musical story line, once again embellished by Trompeter’s tidal chords and drummer Paul Wertico’s accents from brushed cymbals. And speaking of Wertico, in whose groups Moulder has participated for over fifteen years, the spontaneity of the exchange of ideas between them is particularly noticeable—and engaging. “Time Being” starts relatively simply with Bradfield stating the singable melody without elaboration; Wertico’s rustling and bridled energy becomes evident under Bradfield’s long tones as if Wertico is waiting to be released. Suspicions set up by Wertico’s foreshadowing are confirmed as the simplicity dissolves to reveal the underlying force, unbridled when, satisfyingly (to the crowd’s yelps and applause), Wertico solos midway through the track. All drumming breaks loose. Wertico’s solo becomes the track’s fulcrum, initially unsuspected by the audience, as singsong evolves into dynamism. The ironic contrasts within “Time Being”—melodic ease against restrained force, introductory singability against rock-like final intensity—are but one example of Moulder’s shrewd compositional imagination. Combined with like-minded first-rate musicians and the thrill of constant bursts of surprise, The Eleventh Hour: Live at the Green Mill overflows with memorable moments available now to a broader listening audience.
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