Jason Moran

The Sound Will Tell You
(YES Records)

The title of pianist Jason Moran’s third solo album comes from the late cultural worker Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s instructions for preparing fried chicken: You know when it is ready, because the sound will tell you.

This is an album that evokes instructions. Like the early forms of Black music heard in the fields, these new compositions are like spirituals, which often concealed plans to escape while remembering things some believed were lost.

Beginning with “Follow The Light,” the album moves through a series of compositions that make meaning out of depth and softness—and the occasional “attacks” on the keys. With “For Love” and “Only The Shadows Know (Honey),” the listener is moved to stillness. Yet it is the final third of the program that perhaps best encapsulates the album’s depth of emotion. It begins with the energy of “How Much More Terrible Was The Night,” a pulsating movement that Moran says highlights “America’s current state of pandemonium.” It then returns to tranquility with “The Only Morning Coming (Tear),” and to resolve with “Hum Then Sing Then Speak.” The final tune, “Toni Morrison Says Black Is A Rainbow (Shadow),” like other tracks here, evokes the wisdom of Morrison, an author Moran has returned to in these months of pandemic. If Morrison’s colorful and resonant language evokes connections to memories, Moran is telling us to listen to the sound, for what it will tell us, to listen to how sound feels, how it looks.

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