Diane Moser’s Inventive, Fascinating Birdsongs

Diane Moser0001

BIRDSONGS / MOSER: Birdsongs for Eric. Hello. Dancin’ With the Sparrows. If You Call Me, Then I’ll Call You. Won’t You Come Out to Play. Folk Song. When Birds Dream. MacDOWELL: Woodlands: I. Morning and Afternoon; II. Evening. BEACH: A Hermit Thrush at Eve & Variations. PEDERSON: The (Un)Common Loon / Diane Moser, pn; Anton Denner, fl/pic; Ken Filiano, bs / Planet Arts 30174

Here is something new under the sun: a jazz trio’s classical-jazz fusion treatment of music dedicated to birds. At first blush, the music seems to be ambient jazz, but this is deceiving, because Diane Moser, who apparently also leads the Composers Big Band in New York, has a discursive musical mind that marches to the beat of a different flute. Yes, the music is soft-grained and definitely has strong classical overtones, as indicated not only by the inclusion of the two pieces from Edward Mac Dowell’s Woodlands and Amy Beach’s A Hermit Thrust at Eve, but also from her own strongly classical-based compositions/arrangements. The very first tune, dedicated to Eric Dolphy, begins with bowed bass and flute flutterings, which thrown you off at first, but before long a jazz beat emerges and the music becomes more rhythmic with improvisations thrown in—and then moves back again. It’s very difficult music to describe, however, because both its structure and its ebb and flow bend and morph like small tree branches in the wind.

Of course, the hardcore jazz fan may be turned off by this approach, since much of the music here is gentle and bassist Filiano almost always plays arco or bowed rather than standard pizzicato jazz bass, but I found it fascinating. In some ways the music is very modern, hence its resemblance to ambient jazz (but without ever becoming banal or uninteresting), and in some ways it harks back to the kind of musical experiments one heard in the late 1950s from such innovative musical minds as the late Fred Katz, particularly when he played cello with the Chico Hamilton group that had Paul Horn on flute and saxophone.

Absolutely key to the success of this music is Filiano, whose playing flows like a golden thread through each and every piece. He is a dominant presence in every track, as is flautist-piccolo player Anton Denner; if anything, it is the leader’s delicate traceries on the piano that act more as the ambient element in this music. She gives free rein to Denner in his imitations of birds which are intermingled with the constant flow of the music. Moreover, since the tracks flow seamlessly into one another, listening without seeing the change of tracks gives the impression of a complete work divided into different movements. This music is as great as anything I’ve heard accomplished by modern classical composers, and in those moments when Moser’s playing becomes more forward and more rhythmic, it simply acts as another variant in the ongoing musical discourse.

This is especially evident in the third track, Dancin’ With the Sparrows, where Moser not only becomes more jazz-animated but Filiano suddenly switches to plucked bass. Yet this, too, acts like another movement in the ongoing suite. The marvelous thing about this music is that its shifts of mood do not break up the flow but rather enhances it. Another name that crossed my mind when listening to this album was that of jazz-folk flautist Abbie Rabinovitz, whose Flute Story CD of many years ago I fell in love with. Even the introduction of quasi-bop figures here and there add to rather than detract from the music’s quality and impact.

Moser also holds the listener’s attention by means of her keen ear for detail. Although most of the music is sparse, she uses space in a highly creative way, which keeps the listener engaged in the ongoing musical discourse.

The MacDowell and Amy Beach pieces are also transformed through Moser’s musical mind into jazz-classical pieces, which adds to the classical feel of the album without disrupting the overall mood. As she put it in the publicity sheet for this album, “Our world is overrun with all kinds of sounds that are not always good for your health, or mental and emotional well-being. I wanted this recording to be a respite from that, so that those who listen can feel relieved from their daily stress and feel refreshed and positive.” Towards the end of the album, we get mostly Moser alone on piano, playing very softly and more ambient than jazzy, bringing the CD to a soft close.

She has clearly accomplished her goal. This album is mostly a gem.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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