Jewels and Binoculars
A Dutch take on Bob Dylan
by Piotr Michalowski
During the swing era the clarinet was king in the public eye, but during the postwar years, as small combos took over in jazz, it was eclipsed by the louder saxophones and trumpets in the front line. The instrument may have lost its public glamour, but it never went away, and in the last few decades, as styles have multiplied and sound textures have become more important, there has been a blossoming of talented clarinetists in improvised music.
One of the most versatile and accomplished musicians to take up the blackwood horn is Michael Moore, who is equally proficient on the bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Originally from northern California, Moore studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. After working briefly in New York, he moved to Amsterdam and quickly found himself at home in the uniquely eclectic and inventive Dutch musical scene. He first played in an expatriate trio with cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher. Now he plays with everyone, leads his own groups, and runs his own label, Ramboy, which has released sixteen CDs.
Moore is a well-schooled musician, renowned for his seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of tunes from many different musical traditions. He can execute the wildest extended techniques as easily as he can play delicate, wistful melodies. He was a member of Gerry Hemingway's highly inventive avant-garde quintet but has also played and recorded traditional duets with pianist Fred Hersch, a friend from student days. For a number of years he worked alongside drummer Han Bennink and cellist Reijseger in the Clusone Trio, a zany group that mixed musical and physical hijinks with amazing interpretations of Gershwin, Berlin, Saint-Sans, Jobim, and just about everyone else. He has also recorded Irish and Peruvian folk tunes as well as bop warhorses.
Moore was at last year's Edgefest with Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra, and this year he returns with the cooperative trio Jewels and Binoculars, which includes his old pal drummer Vatcher and
the accomplished bassist Lindsey Horner. In a twist characteristic of the broad-minded Dutch perspective, this trio plays only the music of Bob Dylan. At first glance, this choice may seem somewhat idiosyncratic, as one thinks of Dylan mainly as a wordsmith and only secondarily as a composer of interesting melodies. Listening to their first CD (on Ramboy), one discovers that these musicians can take familiar tunes like "Boots of Spanish Leather," "With God on Our Side," "Visions of Johanna," or "Highway 61 Revisited" and bring out the purely melodic elements, turning them also into vehicles for jazz improvisations. This is definitely innovative music, but it is delicate, sensitive, and highly approachable by anyone who is willing to give it an ear.
Jewels and Binoculars performs on Thursday, October 3, at Kerrytown Concert House as part of this year's Edgefest.
[Originally published in October, 2002.]