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The May 8 Athenaeum Jazz concert featuring Jason Moran & The Bandwagon was a fascinating conceptual affair that's reach occasionally exceeded its grasp -- even though there were plenty of bright moments.

Using his i-pod to play transitional material from one piece to the next, Moran offered recorded examples heavy on Fats Waller with some Billie Holiday thrown in for good measure.

Moran walked around the stage, ringing two large bells to begin the concert over rumbling bass and skittish drums, arriving at the piano for a brief rubato before lighting on a churchy groove for an elliptical, repetitious "Honeysuckle Rose."

Pre-recorded sounds of music and conversation birthed an astonishing solo feature for drummer Nasheet Waits, who built snare drum cadences into an ecstatic climax that signaled the rest of the group to begin "Foot Under Foot," whereupon Moran the pianist, finally let loose with double-fisted hammering and long streams of melody.

On the next tune, Moran displayed some Jaki Byard chops with ebullient, broken stride fragments that included brilliant runs that raced toward thunderous explosions in the bass.

Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie," came off in a bluesy, almost Horace Silver fashion, allowing Moran to showcase his lyrical touch and uncanny dynamic control. Bassist Tarus Mateen, playing a hybrid fretless instrument, wailed away in synchrony with his voice two octaves higher for an impressive solo -- but, this needs to be said: Mateen's instrument was horrible in general. It was hard to hear, and when it was audible, it had all of the sustain, nuance and timbre detail of a poorly amplified ukulele.

The highlight of the evening for me came in the second set with a heavy backbeat version of "Jitterbug Waltz," transformed into a gritty funk that had everyone hitting on all cylinders.

Photo by Michael Klayman

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