a pervasive stigma of noise, abstraction and inaccessibility,
the “freer” modes of jazz are really nothing more than the
budgeting of silence. It’s the silence of one instrument dropping
out mid-conversation that makes an improvisation economical,
and it’s the silence between notes within a single passage
that gives the idea its shape. The best improvisational musicians
are successful not because they can frantically exhale a bounty
of ideas, but, paradoxically, because of an inner silence
that frees these ideas of their own volition. When saxophonist
Ras Moshe and his quartet stepped onstage Saturday night,
it was as if the performance already were underway. When the
first notes were eventually issued, they seemed to come as
an extension of a mindset that pervaded these musicians’ lives.
is a large man with long dreadlocks and watchful eyes. A music
stand with charts stood before him, but never once throughout
the evening’s performance did he flip a single page. It was
with horns (alto, tenor, and flute), eyes and occasional words
that he led his band. Before each song he’d turn to his sidemen
(Dave Miller on drums, Cliff Jackson on upright bass, and
Tor Snyder on guitars) to instruct them on who was to enter
at what time. In the second set he even called (in a way that
was audible to the audience) for the piece to end with a “Ka-boom!”
voyage began one of two ways: with Moshe issuing a declarative
introduction on his horn before the band fell in behind him,
or by building the whole thing up from a brisk clip in the
drums. The first set was still young when each instrument’s
duties became clear. Miller offered the momentum, pulsing
as best a percussionist can in the absence of any discernible
time signature. Jackson offered the incantation by sticking
to relatively simple, repetitious motifs on his bass without
ever walking it outright. He could even be seen occasionally
mouthing inaudible syllables along with his lines. Snyder
provided color with confounding spontaneous chord progressions.
He split his time between a conventional acoustic guitar and
a strange electric one with no headstock and a feathered fret
board. Instead of supporting Moshe’s solos with linear harmonies,
he strummed oblique chords with a fingerstyle technique common
to harp or flamenco guitar, incorporating percussive elements
with gentle, mournful feedback.
to be the most adventurous of the four, Moshe followed this
rule of twos in his use of the sonic canvas. In a responsive
manner, he would often climb Snyder’s lamentation and Miller’s
rhythmic punctuation to climax. Just as often however, he
seemed to be directly defying all notions of pattern and cohesion
by playing a sort of anti-pattern against what the other musicians
were doing. In the most successful moments, this system would
gradually bring each musician into incidental orbit with one
another and then resolve the piece around the same tonal center.
At other times, however, ideas seemed to cloud each other.
This is not to diminish the ideas themselves; each was simply
prevented from being simultaneously apprehended and appreciated.
Indeed, much of the quartet’s music demanded active engagement.
This was the band’s price of admission. The payoff came, though,
when Moshe would arrive at his manic peak, spraying fleet
arpeggios across the audience like a sweep-picking heavy-metal
performing his final piece, Moshe stopped to thank the audience,
the venue and his band. For most, this would stand as a musical
formality, but in the context of Moshe’s music—the kind that
is not possible without acute synergy—the sentiment bore true
gratitude. Similarly, when Moshe described the space (literally
a small sanctuary) as having “the right vibrations going on,”
the statement traded cliché for acoustic prognosis.