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Take Five: Jason Moran, Tomasz Stanko, Linda May Han Oh, Joshua Abrams, Hearing Things

John Rogers
The Bandwagon at the Village Vanguard

Take Five this week turns out to be a celebration of working bands — from the Bandwagon, led for more than a dozen years by pianist Jason Moran, to Natural Information Society, which bassist Joshua Abrams established not quite a decade ago. We'll also hear brand-new tracks by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet, a new-breed organ trio called Hearing Things, and the agile group led by bassist Linda May Han Oh.

Jason Moran, “Gangsterism at the Vanguard”

Tradition is hardly a rote idea for pianist and composer Jason Moran. Among his cherished rituals is a Thanksgiving-week residency at the Village Vanguard in New York — a custom that began in 2002, when his trio, The Bandwagon, recorded its first full album there. Moran recorded part of their most recent run for Thanksgiving at the Vanguard, now available in digital form. The album covers a lot of ground, including the Monk tune “Thelonious” and a recent commission, “Wind.” But the band is best represented by this rambling new spin through Moran’s “Gangsterism” motif. Which of course is another tradition, one to be thankful for.

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet, “Burning Hot”

The great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has a worthy outlet in his New York Quartet, a postbop unit made up of astute younger players: pianist David Virelles, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gerald Cleaver. December Avenue, releasing on ECM this Friday, is his second album with the band. (It was preceded by Wisława, in 2013, with Thomas Morgan on bass.) Along with a strong showcase for the band’s cohesion, it’s a platform for Stanko’s compositions, which favor chiaroscuro shading and a noble strain of melancholy. But there’s also this sprightly tune, “Burning Hot,” which rides a bounding ostinato by Rogers; features a Virelles solo girded with sly dissonance; and finds Stanko in a bracing standoff with Cleaver. The performance feels open-ended, but amounts to concise distillation of this band’s dynamic control.

Linda May Han Oh, “Perpluzzle”

By now there can be no doubting Linda Oh’s nimble authority as a bassist, which she has proven on the bandstand with mentors like Pat Metheny, Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano. On Walk Against Wind — the first album billed under her full name, Linda May Han Oh, due Friday on the innovative label Biophilia Records — she takes a long stride forward as a bandleader and composer. The writing is intricate but flowing, tailored to the articulate grace of her band. “Perpluzzle” finds Oh on electric bass and wordless vocals, dashing through a melodic labyrinth in tight formation with Ben Wendel’s tenor saxophone and Matthew Stevens’s guitar.

(Oh and her band perform on April 15 at The SideDoor in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and on April 19 at the Jazz Standard in New York.)

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society, “2128½”

Natural Information Society, led by the bassist Joshua Abrams, has been a going concern for the better part of a decade, rooted in the go-anywhere ethos of the Chicago experimental scene. 

On the band’s fourth album, Simultonality, Abrams often slows things down to a meditative crawl, borrowing ideas from both postminimalist chamber music and premodern folklore: He spends much of the album playing the guimbri, a three-stringed Gnawan lute, in hypnotic patterns. But there’s also still a jazz pulse in this music, as Abrams shows with the closing track, “2128½,” featuring the prayerful cry of Ari Brown’s tenor saxophone and the polyrhythmic lope of Mikel Patrik Avery’s drumming. 

Hearing Things, “Tortuga”


Matt Bauder is a multireedist of experimental pedigree, having studied with Anthony Braxton and worked in bands like the Exploding Star Orchestra. He’s also a gun-for-hire who tours with indie-rock heroes the Arcade Fire. Bauder’s organ trio, Hearing Things, brings those disparate aesthetics into the same wheelhouse. The band, with JP Schlegelmilch on electric organ and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, favors a blustery, foot-tapping energy, drawing from roadhouse rhythm-and-blues as well as vintage Ethio-jazz. And as you can see in this video for “Tortuga,” from the forthcoming album Here's Hearing Things, Bauder isn’t the self-serious type. Slow and steady, maybe, but not serious.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.