Kansas City has its place in popular music history as a key location for the transgenesis of jazz from big band swing to the modernism of Be-Bop. Charlie Parker was born there and the seeds that flowered post-war era Cool germinated on 18th and Vine. Eddie Moore and his intimate circle are well aware of that heritage and they are only to eager to immerse themselves in a climate of constant change.
Houston pianist Eddie Moore migrated to the mid-west where he has found a natural home for his expansive outlook and able colleagues in the shape of The Outer Circle. Their debut album is marked by a brisk liveliness and a clean, highly separated, live ensemble sound. Each of the instruments has an agenda to pursue and they are allowed much latitude, but it’s Eddie Moore who astutely chairs the proceedings.
Freedom of Expression lives up to its name as a collection of original tunes given up generously to some intuitive and, at times, dynamic playing. Moore himself has a noticeably firm touch and an assertive style even on some of the gentler passages of play.
On tracks like The Freedom of Expression and Anger Management firm affirmative chords are laid out like placemarks amid strong piano notation, played as if written in bold type. Where there is fluidity and lightness it’s provided in the first instance by the tenor sax playing of Erik Blume and the elegance of Matt Hopper’s guitar.
But the live-in-the-studio feel derives much of its combustible energy from a very busy rhythm section. Dominique Sanders plays with the all the agility necessary to set the pace with some gymnastic drumming from Matt Leifer. Still, it’s not rush hour all the way through. They stand well back enough to give melody room to breathe as required, and they even allow a bit of funk to creep in by the back door on Anger Management.
This is frontier jazz in the sense that it sees horizons rather than borders, and explores territories that are not unknown, but still incompletely mapped. In a recent interview with J. P. MacNamara of online music mag Demencha, Moore gave notice of his ambitions,
“I had always been wanting to put a band (together), ever since I was in Houston. Moving to Kansas I felt a great certain satisfaction meeting the great musicians that are here. So, I had just been playing around the city with these guys; Dominique, Matt Liefer and Matt Hopper. They just brought that personality. It was something that just sort of naturally developed……….I don’t ever tell them exactly what to play. I just maybe say, “Oh, I like this” or “I have this”. So every night it can change….because we might want to do something different. So yeah, it just naturally happens.”
Freedom of Expression has an unfettered feel about it, but it’s not so far out there as to become difficult to discern. For me, Erik Satie stalks some of the melodies, most notably September 15th, and Moore’s style contains a slither of Horace Silver’s playing rather than reminders of any other obvious keyboard titans. He has a capacity for prettiness in his approach to composition and that, I think, distances him from much of the cliches of showy jazz piano.
Indeed, Saved By The Bell and Liberation sees Moore loosen up and play (aptly) with greater expression and these numbers demonstrate that he does indeed have a very delicate touch. The latter tune is almost a stroll in comparison to the bustle of preceding works with a walking bass perambulating in perfect step with Moore’s peripatetic piano.
If Eddie More is homesick then he’s not showing it, but his Houston Visions is as affectionate a reminder of home as you are likely to hear. It’s an awfully nice tune and a metropolitan memoir that beautifully captures the quiet grace of the city at night. It may seem remarkably generous to give the song over to the tenor sax of Andy McGhie but ultimately it makes perfect sense. McGhie’s playing accepts the gift with alacrity and it twinkles like starlight reflected in a nightscape of glass towers and walls of mirrored steel.
This is a confident debut and it strongly suggests that Eddie Moore and The Outer Circle need room to move if you are going to hear them at their best. More than that, it is a declaration that in order to express yourself, you must, first and foremost, have something to say. I, therefore, am listening with interest.