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Review by: Fiona Mactaggart
New Jersey – based jazz pianist, composer and educator Diane Moser has just released her seventh CD, Birdsongs. Moser has diverse musical interests and experiences, is passionate about social issues and is a member of New York – based Musicians for Musicians, the non-profit musician advocacy organisation. She is perhaps best known in New York City and much of the USA for her work with the Diane Moser Composers Big Band (still an unusual role for a female jazz musician), The Diane Moser Quintet and The Diane Moser Trio. Such rich musical experience, together with an almost life-long interest in birdsong, feed into her new release, Birdsongs.
Birdsongs began during a residency in 2018 at MacDowell Colony, the artist’s colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire and developed over the subsequent ten years in formats as varied as big band and solo piano. This considered release is in trio format, Moser joined by long-standing colleagues Anton Denner (flute and piccolo) and Ken Filiano (double bass). Birds have inspired many and disparate composers from Messiaen to Hidden Orchestra, and Moser’s Birdsong is a worthwhile addition to the list.
Nine tracks run to a generous 76 minutes, all but two of the tracks penned by Moser. Wrapped around these are Moser’s own compositions, starting with ‘Birdsong for Eric’, that is for the late, great jazz alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Lovely arco bass and flute evoke soaring and fluttering, Moser’s piano increasing harmonic development, elaboration and increasing rhythmicity. Following a gently ascending motif, as if flying high into the distance, the piece ends quietly and calmly.
Following this is MacDowell’s Woodlands Suite, Part 1: Morning and Afternoon, the first piece in this part being ‘Hello’. This opens with a hello – sounding motif, the piano and bass repeating this whilst flute adds lilting melody atop. Subsequent gentle probing and playing with the melody by all three musicians demonstrates the cooperation and sensitivity of an improvising trio at the top of their game.
Next listed is ‘Dancing with Sparrows’, one of the more up-tempo and obviously jazzy pieces. With bass now playing pizzicato, then piano and bass walking together between outbursts of activity, this piece successfully evokes the rapid–fire nature of sparrow song and movement.
Next is ‘If you’ll call me, then I’ll call you,’ chirpy snippets evoking birdsong, with fluttering flute excitement in the middle, then an improvised feel, before quieting towards the end and returning to the repeating motif. Throughout Moser’s underpinning piano provides a highly secure base, as always.
The final piece in Part 1 is ‘Won’t you come out to play’. The admirably slow start seems to offer the composer, musicians and listeners a welcome space to ‘play’, then around the 2 minute mark a cool jazz feel develops, with vamping piano and ever changing melody, evolving into an energetic, fun and complex piece.
Moser commissioned a mentee, Kyle Pederson to provide The Intermission in the middle of the release. His ‘The (Un)Common Loon’ is a nod to his home state of Minnesota, and delicately and lyrically (and at times humorously, as in the skittering bass) mimics the loon’s sounds and behaviours.
MacDowell’s Woodlands Suite, Part 2: Evening consists of three solo piano pieces and opens with the only other piece in the release not composed by Moser: Amy Marcy Cheney Beach’s 1921 ‘A Hermit Thrush at Eve’, reportedly also inspired by the birds at MacDowell Colony. This charming, old world piece is respectfully transformed and enriched by Moser’s Latin jazz style variations.
The second last piece, ‘Folksong’ showcases Moser’s delicate yet strong and precise pianism and lyrical and spacious composing. A four note motif is repeated quietly and insistently, resolving with great harmonic beauty. Similarly the final piece ‘When Birds Dream’ has a feeling of space, simplicity and calm, in this case enhanced by what sounds like the use of the sustain pedal to add an ethereal sheen.
This is thoughtfully curated, beautiful music, demonstrating a mature, dare one say quintessentially female jazz voice. Complexity is presented with a light touch. Moser has stated her wish that this music might feel uplifting to the listener and at this she has amply succeeded. A timely treat for all lovers of fine jazz and supporters of women in jazz.
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