March 1, 2024

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CD review: James Moody – Wave Live 2022: Video, CD cover

Whether Moody is playing the soprano, alto, tenor, or flute, he does so with deep resonance and wit.

Moody has a healthy respect for tradition, but takes great delight in discovering new musical paths, which makes him one of the most consistently expressive and enduring figures in modern jazz today.

To quote Peter Watrous of the New York Times, “As a musical explorer, performer, collaborator and composer he has made an indelible contribution to the rise of American music as the dominant musical force of the twentieth century.” James Moody plays on Keilwerth saxophones exclusively.

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.
Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.

Performances by the saxophonist James Moody are often frustrating: he’s one of the great living saxophonists, but he sometimes seems at a loss over what to do with his talent. An extraordinary improviser, he’s assimilated the ascetic, blunt language of 1960’s modalism into the slippery, elliptical phrasing of 1940’s bebop. And he’s a master of chords, making each chorus he takes a wonder of harmonic invention.

His first set at Sweet Basil on Wednesday illustrated some of his problems: his rhythm players -Todd Coolman on bass and Akira Tana on drums – don’t have an urgent bone in their bodies, and where Mr. Moody often plays as if his house is on the line, they sound as if they’re on a fishing expedition.

Mr. Moody at his best plays tunes that he respects, and he opened his show with ”Invitation.” Starting unacompanied on tenor saxophone, with overtone-rich sound, he launched into a slashing, cliff-hanging solo; taking bebop licks, he would replace notes, instead of letting them resolve easily into cliches, or take unexpected turns down dark alleys. Constantly referring to the searching, meditative melody, he handed in a masterpiece of thematic improvising. To finish the set, he played a blues song, which he called ”Take Out Your False Teeth, Papa, Mama Wants to Scratch Your Gums.” A marvel of ingenuity, with melodic patterns forcing their way out of conventional harmony, it let him draw on all his resources.

But when he plays such trivial tunes as ”Wave,” he falters. Using it as simply a set of chord changes, and playing flute (his third instrument of the evening), he jammed his solos with notes, and the performances became an exercise. Mr. Moody is brilliantly funny and an astounding saxophonist. It’s a shame to see him struggle when he doesn’t have to.

1. Birks’ Works (17:04)
2. Autumn Leaves (13:03)
3. Moody’s Mood For Love (4:12)
4. Con Alma (25:29)
5. Wave (5:04)

James Moody - Wave (Live (Remastered)) (2022) Hi Res

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