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Jason Moran and The Bandwagon perform in the KC Jazz Club. (Courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

Jason Moran On JazzSet

by Becca Pulliam
Apr 17, 2014 (WBGO-FM)

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Becca Pulliam

He's not 40 yet, but Jason Moran is a 2010 MacArthur Fellow, the Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center, and a Resident Artistic Director at SFJAZZ in San Francisco. He grew up in Houston, teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and lives in New York, home to an early 20th century piano tradition of which he is more than aware. Moran has led this trio, The Bandwagon, for more than a dozen years.

In Moran's 2000 solo album, You've Got to Be Modernistic, he tapped into a foundational piece of Harlem stride piano and its composer James P. Johnson (1894-1955), who wrote and recorded "Modernistic" in the late 1920s. Moran honored the piece — and he took it apart. He deconstructs and reconstructs, liberates figures coiled inside and works them, taking a known composition to a new place. It's as true on "Honeysuckle Rose" by Fats Waller as it is on "You've Got to Be Modernistic."

Thomas "Fats" Waller, born in 1904 to a minister's family, was Johnson's youthful understudy. Waller had mischief in his hands and double meanings in his lyrics. Though he made the Great Depression seem fun, his piano playing is so in-the-moment, spot-on and technically impossible that you know he was serious. Waller died young, in 1943.

At HarlemStage in 2011, Moran, the multi-talented Meshell Ndegeocello, musicians and dancers presented their first Fats Waller Dance Party. Chairs moved out; the audience filled the floor. Moran introduced a giant papier maché mask of the iconic Waller, eyebrows raised and cigarette dangling. He set the mask on the piano and later pulled it over his head as the music went modernistic with hip-hop beats and more. More performances are coming in 2014, with the release of Moran's Fats Waller album on the Blue Note label.

Last year at the KC Jazz Club and on JazzSet, Moran and The Bandwagon played a suite with a singer and narrative commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the quilters of Gee's Bend, Ala.

This evening at the KC Jazz Club, Moran shows that radio theater lives in his creative soul as he sets up two tunes with pre-produced field recordings and sound montages. After finishing a piece, he shares a back story about a blues pianist (and relative) who came through Texas to his home, played the piano Moran has in his New York living room today, and made the young Moran think, "I never have that much fun with Brahms." Moran is a leading musician of his generation and an artistic polymath, and now in his second year as Artistic Advisor for Jazz, he says from the stage, "The Kennedy Center [is where] it's all under one roof!"

Personnel

  • Jason Moran, piano
  • Tarus Mateen, bass
  • Nasheet Waits, drums

Set List

  • "Honeysuckle Rose" (Thomas Waller)
  • "I'll Play the Blues for You" (Jerry Beach)
  • "The Subtle One" (Mateen)
  • "Lulu's Back in Town" (Harry Warren, Al Dubin)
  • "Blessing the Boats" (Alicia Hall Moran)
  • "Crepuscule with Nellie" (Thelonious Monk)
Copyright 2014 WBGO-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbgo.org.

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Experienced Captain Says South Korean Ferry Should Have Evacuated

Apr 17, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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Rescue workers are battling bad weather to pump oxygen into the capsized ferry off the coast of South Korea, in the hopes of keeping any survivors alive.

Anguished relatives are growing increasingly frustrated. The ferry’s captain Lee Joon-seok apologized today, but there are mounting questions about his decisions.

There are reports he did not issue an evacuation order when the ship started listing, but instead his first instructions asked passengers to put on life jackets but stay put as officers were trying to stabilize the listing ship.

Nine people are confirmed dead. At least 179 have been rescued, but 287 are still missing.

Captain James Staples, a maritime consultant with 20 years of command experience, discusses the safety protocols for ships, both before and during an emergency, with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Guest

  • James Staples, ship captain and Master Mariner in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a principal at OceanRiver LLC, a maritime consulting and security company.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

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A sterile corridor. (Screenshot)

God, Man And Lots Of Corridors In 'Transcendence'

Apr 17, 2014 (WBUR-FM)

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Linda Holmes

Transcendence is a science fiction story, but it's very much about faith. Early on, a member of a "neo-Luddite" group confronts Will Caster (Johnny Depp) about his work. Caster is promising a future in which a massive artificial intelligence will contain more knowledge than the world has ever collectively possessed, and the man - played by Lukas Haas, whom many of us first saw as a tiny Amish child in Witness, where he was also counseled about the dangers of modernity and technology - accuses him of trying to create a god. "Isn't that what mankind has always done?" Caster volleys back.

The story is basically this: Johnny Depp plays Caster, a genius researcher who, faced with a failing body, has his consciousness uploaded to a supercomputer by his desperate wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max (Paul Bettany). Can you reproduce a human soul with a machine? Should you tinker with the work of creation? Whether you think of these questions as hackneyed or eternal - or both - may dictate how much you care about the story.

For all the reasons explained in Ian Buckwalter's review, the film doesn't really work. The story doesn't make any sense - not in the "E.T. shouldn't be able to make a bike fly" kind of way, but in the "lacks internal cohesion" kind of way. There is a tantalizing moment when a particularly menacing shot of Hall shot across the top of a monitor suggests that Transcendence is about to embrace a more intriguing direction and become a horror film, but it doesn't. It insists upon a path that's far less interesting than outright horror would have been, and muddles itself in the process.

It's a fundamentally silly movie, but the flip side is that it's extraordinarily pretty, and it's an opportunity to see what a very thoughtful director does with visuals in a story about science and nature, man and God.

There was good reason to suspect Transcendence would look good. Wally Pfister, the director, is best known as a cinematographer who won an Oscar for Inception. It was one of seven Christopher Nolan films he's worked on since 2000, including Nolan's Batman trilogy and Memento. It was unlikely to be ugly. It was even more unlikely to be poorly thought out visually, even though it precisely seems poorly thought out as a story.

What's most noticeable on the surface - it's obvious even in something as short as the trailer - is Pfister's love of corridors. Not only is the lab where much of the sketchy science takes place a maze of long, shiny, sterile white corridors down which the camera is constantly gazing, but the racks that hold Will's supercomputer constitute a reverse version - the same setup, only in black. Want more? An outside array of solar panels with a path down the middle creates the same effect, as does a series of stone arches through which Bettany at one point approaches the camera.

There's a fine line between a motif and a tic, and the corridors here are treading right on that line. But when they work, they create a sort of infinite space, while at the same time, you can imagine yourself becoming tinier and tinier until it you blink out in a dot and vanish into oblivion. (Hey, it's the inevitability of death! Also known as planned obsolescence for humans.)

Early on, the story as it stands has a tendency toward feeling cold. Everyone in it is a tech genius. It's about artificial intelligence - the ultimate displacement of the human with the mechanical. It's all about the presumption that we live in a society of increasingly chilly dependence on technology, and that there's menace in it. It's the natural (in the language of the exchange between Depp and Haas, the God-made) world under threat from the man-made (and God-making) world.

But over and over, particularly in the first third of the film, we get luscious close-ups of things like flowers and water droplets in slow motion, anchoring the story to its sense of the real and the natural. Similarly, Will and Evelyn's backyard has a huge garden, and even as the story grows darker, they seem to live just at the edge of a nature sanctuary. Not only that, but Will has built a "dead zone" into that garden. He has made it a place where you can't get a signal on your phone. (If you are in this garden and a snake suggests you enjoy a delicious apple, just say no. My guess is that if you eat it, you'll immediately begin receiving texts.)

What's more, the very moment that seems the most like a Godless mechanical intrusion - the copying of Will's brain onto a drive - takes place in an airy, naturally lit building where the windows are blown out with bright sunshine. Instead of feeling like a lab or an operating room, they're in a sprawling, junk-filled warehouse that's lit like, and feels like, they're in a barn birthing a calf. The imagery tethers the story to nature and God, even as it moves closer to man and machine.

But it slips loose of that imagery as Will's computer self, Will3000 or whatever you want to call him, begins to dominate. Rather than enjoying the intriguing shots of droplets - which are peacocking a bit, but what do you want? He won an Oscar - we start to spend all of our time looking at computers. For a long stretch, we're spending entirely too much time staring at screens, which is always boring, as they flood with random numbers and letters, the way they always do in movies about supercomputers. It doesn't get a lot better when we start looking at Will's talking head on the same overhead screens they use to show CNN at the airport. It's just not as interesting as what's gone before.

If, in fact, supercomputers display a screen full of random text scrolling and roiling when they're hard at work, then the movies have it right. But usually, it seems like a rough and unpersuasive idea of computers that could have been featured on MacGyver. It stands in stark contrast to the way that Spike Jonze's Her - a film with some similar themes - made the technology look smaller and more familiar, the better to present its philosophical questions with.

There's a very mise-en-place look to Transcendence; it never looks less than impeccably arranged. But with all the effort that went into reconnecting the story to humanity and nature using little shreds of the natural world, it's in service of an undercooked mashup of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, Frankenstein, Pet Sematary, "The Monkey's Paw," and An Inconvenient Truth.

But boy, it sure is good-lookin'.

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What's Being Done To Prevent Another Fertilizer Plant Explosion?

Apr 17, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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A year ago today, a deadly blast tore through the small community of West, Texas, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial accidents in Texas history. So what’s being done to prevent it from happening again?

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Terrence Henry of KUT reports that the response has been a slow one.

Guest

Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

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Security Expert Says Emergency Response Shouldn't Sideline Public

Apr 17, 2014 (Here & Now / WBUR-FM)

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One year ago, Bostonians woke up to the news that the city had shut down because the second Boston marathon bombing suspect was still on the loose, after an overnight gun battle with police that took place hours after surveillance camera images of the suspects had been released.

Boston and surrounding communities became ghost towns. But it wasn’t until the shutdown was lifted that a Watertown resident venturing outside found suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the boat he kept in his backyard.

When should a city shut down for an emergency, and at what price?

National security expert Stephen Flynn says emergency responders too often sideline the public instead of incorporating them into emergency response. He joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss when and when not to enforce shelter-in-place.

Guest

Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

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