It’s no easy task following up a brilliant debut like Soundtrack to Human Motion, but pianist Jason Moran does admirably well with this effort. Unlike the previous record, which featured Greg Osby’s alto and Stefon Harris’s vibes, Facing Left finds Moran in a trio setting, backed by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. (For an interesting listen, spin this CD back-to-back with Marc Cary’s excellent Trillium, another piano trio album from the same year, with the same rhythm section.)
Whereas Soundtrack to Human Motion featured all originals (save for a brief Ravel interlude), Facing Left contains a number of non-original tracks. There are two little-known Duke Ellington compositions, “Later” and “Wig Wise,” as well as Jaki Byard’s “Twelve and Björk’s “Joga.” There are also two cinema-related pieces: “Yojimbo,” the theme from the Akira Kurosawa film of the same name, and “Murder of Don Fanucci,” a snippet of mood music from Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II. While this last one sounds a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the others, all the non-original pieces serve to illustrate vital aspects of Moran’s musicianship. The Björk song in particular shows how far outside the jazz world Moran is ready to look for inspiration.
Of the originals, “Lies Are Sold” and “Fragment of a Necklace” are standouts. The former has overdubbed Rhodes piano outlining the colorful harmonies, as well as a delicious chordal hook that wedges the piece into the listener’s memory. The latter is a spellbinding ballad in 3/4 that highlights Moran’s lyrical side, in contrast to the busy, high-speed attack of “Another One.” “Thief Without Loot” again features overdubbed Rhodes, while “Battle of the Cattle Acts” is spiced with Hammond B3 organ. These additional instruments make for arresting orchestral flavors and call to mind similar experiments by Jacky Terrasson.
The final track, “Gangsterism on Wood,” is a marvelous touch: a solo piano meditation based on Moran’s earlier “Gangsterism on Canvas.” These titles directly evoke the visual arts, thus, emphasizing the breadth of Moran’s artistic influences. The change of medium — canvas to wood — cleverly invites us to anticipate his future creative evolution. – David R. Adler