Acoustic Sounds

Jason Moran




Jason Moran Ten

Label: Blue Note

Produced By: Jason Moran

Engineered By: Sascha von Oertzen

Mixed By: Sascha von Oertzen

Mastered By: Gene Paul & Jamie Polaski

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray

By: Fred Kaplan

July 5th, 2024





Jason Moran's Classic "Ten," Now on Vinyl

The great jazz pianist's breakthrough trio album as a Classic Vinyl two-fer

It may seem odd for Blue Note to reissue Jason Moran’s Ten on two LPs as part of its Classic Vinyl series. For one thing, it was recorded in 2010, a bit recent to be deemed a classic. For another, contrary to the “hype sticker” (and unlike most titles in the series), it was not “mastered from the original analog tapes,” as the album was recorded digitally. (Blue Note has since acknowledged the error.)

 Nonetheless, the album fits the category. The sound quality, though not breathtaking, is good enough. More than that, the album—hailed at the time and confirmed on rehearing 14 years later—is a classic, by any measure.

 Moran, just 35 at the time of its original release, was already (and still remains) one of the most versatile and original jazz pianists of our time. His range is vast, yet his signature distinct—a rare combination. About 20 years ago, he played a concert of piano duets at Merkin Hall, in New York, with Andrew Hill, a mentor more than 40 years his senior. It was an amazing concert, but something stuck out: Hill was playing in one style, his style; Moran was canvassing every style in the creation of his own sound. It was a generational contrast. Hill, who had led a dozen recording dates on Blue Note in the ‘60s and was experiencing a renaissance, came from the core of avant-gardists intent on making their music new. Moran emerged in the late ‘90s, when some of the most creative artists were drawing on, and fusing, music from every era, genre, and corner of the globe.

 To analogize in terms of the visual arts, Hill was one of the Abstract Expressionists (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline), while Moran is the supreme post-modernist (in the vein of Robert Rauschenberg) who appropriates everything around him, including ready-made objects, and makes it his own. (Many years ago, when I told Moran that he struck me as “the Rauschenberg of jazz,” he smiled and said, “Rauschenberg is very important to me.”)

 I’m not casting judgment on either school. Jazz would not have advanced without the deep-dive singlemindedness of Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, and other innovators. At the same time, many of the younger, more eclectic musicians never escaped from the derivative, never found their own sound. Musicians from both sets often limited their horizons by their choices. (Cecil Taylor, the grand avant-garde pianist, once boasted of being able to dance to both James Brown and Albert Ayler. I would have liked to hear him play variations on James Brown, but he was trapped in his notion of who Cecil Taylor was. Moran really can play both, and much more, capturing the native idioms and weaving them in his own way.)

 Ten was so titled because its release marked the 10th year of Moran’s trio, called the Bandwagon, with Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. It was Moran’s 8th album as a leader on Blue Note, only the 3rd Bandwagon album (a couple others featured the trio augmented by one or several musicians), and, to my ears, the first where the trio sounded like a trio—an isosceles triangle—rather than Moran-plus-a-rhythm-section.

 As far back as his 2002 album Modernistic (which critic Gary Giddins pronounced one of the great solo piano records since Monk, a verdict that holds up), Moran proved himself a musician of startling breadth (the tracks included James P. Johnson’s “You’ve Got to Be Modernistic,” Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” Schumann’s “Auf Einer Burg,” and one of the very few original covers of “Body and Soul” since Coleman Hawkins), stunning virtuosity (no tempo-speed or harmonic-complexity seemed beyond his limits), and extraordinary rhythmic dexterity.

 All three traits, along with a maturing emotional richness, pervaded Ten, which won most of the year’s critics prizes, catapulted Moran’s career, and, not least, solidified the Bandwagon as a great and enduring trio (now in its 15th year). Moran’s rhythmic dexterity may be his most elusive quality. I know of no jazz pianist since Don Pullen who stretches rhythm as elastically, or with such insouciance or such intensity (depending on what’s required). On Ten, listen to “Blue Blocks” or “Big Stuff,” where he speeds up the tempo, alters the chords, constructs a whole new melody, cranks it back down, and sometimes winds it back up, all seamlessly.

 And, unlike on previous trio albums, the bandmates keep up, sometimes in unison, sometimes in contrast, sometimes carving their own paths altogether but intersecting or commenting on Moran’s at just the right moments—that is, at just those moments when you wonder if the whole contraption is about to break down but you then realize it’s as tight as any fit, you’ve just been sailing a wild ride.

 They keep this up through a track list as varied as that on Modernistic—pieces by Monk, Jaki Byard (another of Moran’s mentors), Leonard Bernstein, the avant-garde classical composer Conlon Nancarrow (two takes of his “Study No. 6,” one of them glacially slow), an early 1900s “blackface” minstrel piece called “Nobody,” and seven Moran originals, including a piece at once lyrical and sorrowful from his soundtrack for the documentary RFK in the Land of Apartheid.

 The new Classic Vinyl edition also includes a rendition of Monk’s “Thelonious,” previously available only in Japan. It’s good, but not Moran’s best Monk cover.

 Moran went on to record just one more album for Blue Note, a Fats Waller tribute album with a much-enlarged band that was more a novelty than a finished product. (His live concerts of this music, where he wore a large, playful through seemingly suffocating Fats Waller face-mask, were much more energetic.) He soon after started his own label, Yes Records, which has put out eight albums of varying quality; I would highly recommend From the Dancehall to the Battlefield, The Sound Will Tell You, Bangs, and a collaboration with the visual artist Julie Mehretu called MASS {Howl, eon}. He has also recorded duets with Archie Shepp (Let My People Go) and played sideman on albums by Charles Lloyd, Henry Threadgill, David Murray, and Ron Miles.

Ten sounds very good for early high-res digital audio (24 bits, 88.2 kHz). All the instruments are clear, well-balanced, dynamic. Nothing eye-popping, but nothing that interferes with the music. It sounds a bit better than the CD—more dimensional, cymbals crisper, bass much woodier.

Classic vinyl indeed.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: 5832040

Pressing Plant: Optimal


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 24/88.2 file

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2024-07-06 02:37:22 AM

    Willie Luncheonette wrote:

    Very nice review, Fred, and your idea of his connection to Rauschenberg is quite interesting. Have not heard the album Ten but did see Moran in his tribute to Thelonious Monk concert here in New York City. I know he held Monk in the highest regard as an influence, lavishly praising him many times in conversations. As a huge Monk fan I was a bit apprehensive approaching the concert (my friend bought me tickets and said "You'll like him") Well, it turned out to be one of the best jazz concerts I've ever attended

  • 2024-07-06 06:15:34 AM

    bill schweitzer wrote:

    Thank you for this thoughtful review. I'm buying this the minute it shows at my local record store. I've loved Jason Moran since I saw him do a tribute to Andrew Hill's Smokestack record (with Richard Davis on bass). I'd never heard anyone able to digest Hill's music so thoroughly and find something that was all his own. I've seen him live many times but only have the Live At The Vanguard album. Now I'll have two.

  • 2024-07-07 12:20:30 PM

    PeterPani wrote:

    It says a lot about the reissue-business, when they put a "Mastered frm the analog tapes be Kevin Gray" sticker on that vinyl record...

    • 2024-07-07 05:34:57 PM

      JACK L wrote:


      "It says a lot about the reissue-business,.." qtd PeterPani

      Very true. Sonically only AAA format LPs I want to own irrespective original or reissues. .

      "when they put a "Mastered frm the analog tapes be Kevin Gray" sticker on that vinyl record..." PP

      This reissue is DDA. digital remastered from the original master tape, digitally remix. If such a label stuck onto the vinyl label stating "Master from the analog tape" without the word "Digital" qualifying it is a digital remastered, it would sound a bit fishy & misleading to some readers.

      JACK L

      JACK L

      • 2024-07-07 06:30:46 PM

        Michael Fremer wrote:

        a record cut from an 88.2/24 bit file should sound better than a 16 bit 44.1K CD especially when mastered by someone who knows what they are doing like KG

        • 2024-07-07 11:53:28 PM

          JACK L wrote:


          "when mastered by someone who knows what they are doing like KG" qtd MF

          From the header: LP personnel profile, it reads "Mastered by: Gene Paul & Jamie Polaski" & " Lacquers cut by: Kevin Gray".

          So KG did not do the mastering.

          Correct me if I were wrong.

          JACK L

          • 2024-07-08 03:19:12 PM

            bwb wrote:

            Discogs lists Gene Paul & Jamie Polaski as mastering the original digital release. Blue Note site says "This Blue Note Classic Vinyl Edition was mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed on 180g vinyl at Optimal."

            So if all accurate, did Kevin Gray take the digital file that was mastered previously and then remaster for this record, or did he take a flat digital file and use that or something else? I'm pretty sure we will never know since being vague is a common approach.

            Does it really matter if it sounds good?

    • 2024-07-07 06:29:54 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      was an honest mistake. Nothing more.

  • 2024-07-08 05:35:59 AM

    bill schweitzer wrote:

    I hope people will not pass on the music just because the vinyl isn't AAA. The music is a Ten (pun intended) and Jason Moran is a great player. If you don't want the vinyl check out the music some other way.