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Jason Moran 

Facing Left
(Blue Note)

Amid smokestacks, steel girders, and great blocks of red and manuscript-paper yellow, pianist Jason Moran glowers like a Marxist superhero on the cover of his latest CD, Facing Left. At the end of his outstretched arm, his finger points out straight, as if to indicate that his music is destined to either revolutionize your speakers or tear them down. That, at least, is how the cover art would have it. The music on Facing Left doesn't quite bear this out. Political associations aside, Moran seems bent on presenting his unadulterated musical vision as it stands with this sophomore effort. To that end, Moran jettisons the horns from his debut and records as a simple trio, with bassist Tarus Mateen and the volcanic, sometimes intrusive drummer Nasheet Waits.

The album is backloaded with originals, but also stocked with other developmental signposts. Moran has a thing for films and the soundtracks that go with them -- here he covers a tune each from Godfather II and Yojimbo. He also gives it up for his inspirations by including a tune by former teacher Jaki Byard and a pair of obscurities from Ellington. The dominant presence here, however, seems to be Moran's mentor and homey Greg Osby, whose urban-funk leanings permeate the young pianist's music. On "Thief Without Loot" and "Another One" especially, Moran leans on the characteristic snake-like ostinatos, hip-hop-style music loops, and low-end vamps as platforms for his improv. Most of the album -- and primarily the originals -- consists of pretty slight stuff. Even when Moran isn't covering the soundtrack pieces (one forgettable, the other embarrassing), his music tends to favor mood over substance. Moran gets beyond puttering only when he covers other people's tunes; he really plays out on a knockout rendition of Duke's "Later" and delivers a surprising, meditative cover of Icelandic pop queen Björk's "Jöga."

More by Aaron Steinberg

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