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
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. Movements such as "Chaos," "Creation"
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
The Eleventh Hour: Live At The Green Mill features guitarist John Moulder showcasing his original compositions with a stunning quintet. To put it succinctly, this recording represents modern jazz at its best. Moulder's compositions are amazingly creative and stimulating, taking fascinating twists and turns and also giving his talented bandmates the freedom to explore and take his pieces in unexpected musical directions.
-Dan Healy, Chicago Jazz Magazine
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