The Clarinet and Saxophone of Michael Moore
Romance without sentimentality
by Piotr Michalowski
From the April, 2014 issue
Most jazz musicians finish their local apprenticeships and musical education and then head off to New York or Chicago to hone their craft, immerse themselves in a richer musical environment, and find success. Woodwind player Michael Moore was fortunate enough to seek a somewhat different route to artistic fulfillment. He grew up in Arcata, California, and after college he studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. After graduation in 1977 he made the expected move to New York, but five years later he moved on to Amsterdam, and that has remained his home to this day. That city's eclectic artistic environment differed in many ways from the competitive and regimented musical life of New York. The Dutch musicians Moore fell in with were open to every kind of playing and eschewed generic boundaries, taking inspiration from all sorts of music and from other artistic forms. While they were serious about their art, they also infused it with a distinct ironic Dadaist sense of humor that appealed to his sensibilities.
In Amsterdam Moore could forget about being a typical jazz musician. He worked with many Dutch groups and with other Americans who had made their way to Europe but also became involved with dance and theater productions, eventually garnering prizes and composer commissions. He has worked in many different contexts, including his own quintet and quartet, which are well documented in recordings that he has put out on his own Ramboy label. In this country he is best known for his work with Mischa Mengelberg's Instant Composers Pool (ICP) Orchestra, which has visited Ann Arbor a number of times.
Moore plays the alto saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet, although we now rarely get to hear him on the latter due to the draconian restrictions airlines have put on cabin baggage. He is an exact player and has developed startlingly precise technique on each of his instruments. He can play well in tune in the highest registers
and is a master of dynamic shading. His music can range from exuberant, rough, and freewheeling blowouts to romantic ballads; from free improvisation to meticulously sculptured compositions and well-known standards; or tunes from various parts of the globe. And yet all of this reflects a specific musical personality: his compositions and improvisations reveal a complex sense of form, and his playing often tells stories that encompass the whole history of his instruments. There is passion and even romance in his playing, though without sentimentality. There is also humor and even bathos, but also an economy of expression.
Moore is simply my favorite clarinetist. His alto saxophone is unique, with a recognizable personal sound core, sweet and acerbic at the same time, even as he sometimes pays homage to earlier masters such as Johnny Hodges or Paul Desmond.
Michael Moore comes to the Kerrytown Concert House on April 21.
[Originally published in April, 2014.]