For most of his career, the jazz piano player Jason Moran, who is only 30, has been hailed as one of jazz's most thoughtful performers. The sheer clarity of his playing dispels, if only for a few minutes, the buzzing confusion of ordinary reality. But don't let this praise or the comparisons to Thelonious Monk and Jaki Byard--all true, by the way--blind you to the fact that Moran's music is sublime fun. When he and his partners in the Bandwagon, drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, gnaw "Body and Soul" to the bone or rumble through the Afrika Bambaataa rap classic "Planet Rock," you want the songs to go on forever. This is brainy music aimed at the heart. "That's what we want," says Moran in his apartment in New York. "We want the music to get to you on an emotional front. Half of music is the listening."
Versatility is the Bandwagon's watchword. The band has taken a crack at everything from Ellington to Brahms. Now, with the audacious album "Same Mother," they've planted their flag on that continent called the blues. The title "came out of a discussion my wife and I were having about the relationship between jazz and blues--same mother," Moran explains. "And it's also a tribute to my mother." He chuckles. "And my brothers' mother. We all have the same mother." Abetted by Cassandra Wilson's guitarist, Marvin Sewell, the band romps from Albert King's "I'll Play the Blues for You" to Prokofiev's "Field of the Dead." There's also a beautiful tune, "The Field," from Moran's wife, Alicia, a classical singer and composer.
Moran has used his family before this, notably in "Gentle Shifts South," a rolling melody that juxtaposes his piano and the taped voices of his grandparents talking about ancestors. The Morans are a tightknit Houston clan--"You know it's close when all your aunts live inside the same ZIP code," he says--and it's easy, listening to this song, to imagine a young man hunched over a piano at home while his elders murmur in the next room. "Same Mother" feels homemade from start to finish. Everything is roots music to these musicians, and it's a good thing the Bandwagon is such a commodious vehicle, because a lot more listeners will want to jump onboard.