Mike Madriaga 8:30 a.m., Sept. 18
Diane Moser Quartet Lights Up The Back Room
Montclair, New Jersey pianist Diane Moser returned to San Diego last night for the first of two back-to-back performances at 98 Bottles, each in celebration of recent CDs.
This one was a quartet playing the music from Diane Moser: WDMO, featuring guitarist Peter Sprague, double-bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Duncan Moore.
Moser is a sublime and powerful musician who has the innate ability to draw things out of expert players that you haven't heard them do before. Perhaps it's the depth of her tunes, or the blanket encouragement to create beyond the expected, or maybe there is something in the way she plays that makes this happen--probably all three--the important thing is, Sprague, Moore and Thorsen each made contributions that came as total surpises.
The pianist has a complete and focused command of the instrument that allows her to blur the distinctions between the kinetic-energy of "outside" playing and the more lyrical propulsion of "inside" music. At the center of it all is a remarkable mastery of rhythmic dynamics.
In fact, the concert began with her original piece "Rhythms," from the new album. There were subtle differences at play, though. Moser began with a rubato introduction that established a very Coltrane-like vibe that had me thinking she was about to launch into "Crescent," for a minute. When Sprague began delineating the melody, it sounded like 'Tranes rhythm section meeting Pat Metheny on the sands of Moonlight Beach. Moser's solo was built almost entirely on knotty chords and clusters--tattooing murals of sound around the contours. Sprague followed with a typically fleet-fingered solo that connected bebop ideas in an increasingly chromatic lattice. Thorsen's spot found him stringing piquant ideas and meaty slurs into a necklace of raw intention. Moore began with sparse motifs that expanded into a fully developed story--transcending entirely the expectations of a standard drum solo.
Moser's treatment of "Summertime," was another example of expert story-telling. She outlined a solo introduction that reeked of the hot and muggy Old South, playing snippets of things that reminded me of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia," and Monk's "Round Midnight", before lighting on the black-snake crawl of her arrangement in 9. Languid and sticky, Sprague responded with a highly creative spot--he's always at his finest when he proceeds slowly--allowing the notes to hang in the air. To say the group established an atmosphere would be an understatement. Hypnotic was the word that came to mind.
After the joyous, Latin bounce of "It's You," and the multi-mood dream sequence of Moser's poem, "One Love," came the thunderous dynamo of her sprawling, "One For Mal," a piece that served as a roadmap for wide and personal exploration of specific, dramatic unisons. It's loaded with tricky pedal-points, melodic-flurries and oblique discourse. Thorsen led off with plinking upper register orbits balanced by wide, fat glissandi --then Moser ratcheted up the tension with herky-jerky dissonant harmonies and skeins of melodic ideas in high-octane delivery. Sprague knocked it out of the park with truly strange effects and voices from his guitar-synthesizer rig veering into an outer space aesthetic. Throughout the ensuing chaos-- Moore kept it real with a constant ting-a-ting-ting on the ride cymbal. When his time came, the drummer created an orchestral world that included several minutes at the hi-hat alone, tapping out a soliloquy of ticks and hisses before launching into a explosive volley that brought the house down.
One of the most enjoyable evenings of music I've seen. Expect something entirely different, yet equally excellent tonight, when she appears in duo with contrabass master Mark Dresser.
Photo of Moser & Thorsen by Barbara Wise