By now, we all know that being named a MacArthur Fellow is a very big deal. Established in 1981, the award carries enormous prestige; its nickname, the “Genius Grant,” says it all. And for anyone involved in the arts, it’s a godsend: $500,000, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years, no strings attached.
Over the years, the MacArthur Foundation has recognized and rewarded several jazz musiciansm including Regina Carter, Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Max Roach, Cecil Taylor, Miguel Zenon and John Zorn. On Tuesday, a new name was added to this short but stellar list: Jason Moran.
Just 35, jazz pianist and composer Moran is one of the most interesting and inventive musicians working today. His compositions, recordings, and performances cross genres and incorporate unusual elements — the human voice, archival recordings by Thelonious Monk and Jimi Hendrix, visual images — to create jazz both forward-looking and respectful of tradition.
Moran is no stranger to the Twin Cities. In 2005, the Walker commissioned him to create a music-theater work, “Milestone.” In 2009, he returned with a multimedia performance built around Monk’s famous 1959 Town Hall concert. If you blinked, you missed this, but Augsburg College brought him in for its annual Convocation Series in October, 2009.
Moran has his own estimable trio, called the Bandwagon, with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen; their latest CD, “Ten” (Blue Note), released this summer, has earned raves. At the Dakota, Moran most often performs as part of Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet, which will play two sets on Thursday night.
Lloyd and his quartet are on tour with their new CD, “Mirror” (ECM), an exquisite collection of standards, originals, gospel songs, and the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No.” With Lloyd, the jazz shaman, on saxophone, Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, this was a not-to-be-missed show before Moran won his MacArthur. Based on my own past experience hearing this quartet, I can promise you a rare experience: uplifting, thought-provoking, richly musical and deeply satisfying. The CD is beautiful but live music is better.