Facing Left And Getting It Right

Though only 25, pianist Jason Moran continues to refine the knowledge and experience he gained from playing with saxophonist Greg Osby, the late pianist Jaki Byard and others.

However, no one can accuse Facing Left, Moran's latest for Blue Note, of being derivative. To be sure, the Houston native has taken the best characteristics from some of the most profound pianists. But he has revamped their approach into something unique.

He teams with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits to form a trio that keeps one foot in tradition while demonstrating a knack for freewheeling expressionism and a command of modern harmony with the other. Facing Left offers 13 songs, including six Moran originals. Duke Ellington's "Later" and "Wig Wise" are reinvigorated with all sorts of modern harmony, and Moran pays homage to his mentor Byard on "Twelve."

"I studied with Jaki for four years," Moran once said. "He taught me to encompass the entire history of the piano in my playing."

He was taught well.

"Thief Without Loot" (RealAudio excerpt) is a rhythmic deconstruction of a conversation Moran had with a Japanese friend. The mood takes a 180 degree turn on "Fragment of A Necklace" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Gangsterism on Wood," but remains as enjoyable as an April stroll along your favorite river walk — facing left, of course.