Over the course of his 20-year career, drummer Stanton Moore has become known as one of the premier funk musicians of his generation. On his latest album, Conversations, he moves in a slightly different direction, returning to his roots while reinventing his trademark sound. The result is a lively and combustible jazz piano trio outing that reveals unexpected new dimensions to Moore’s always-engaging virtuosity.
Anyone who’s ever heard the interplay between the drummer and his band-mates in the Stanton Moore Trio, Galactic, Garage a Trois or Dragon Smoke is no doubt aware of his intense improvisational chops. But with Conversations, Moore unveils his profound sense of swing and the fluency of his jazz vocabulary in its purest form for the first time. “I’ve played a lot of jazz in New Orleans through the years, but it’s not something that the general public has ever seen me do or is even aware of,” Moore says.
Having delved deep into the styles of pioneering drummers like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, and Zigaboo Modeliste for his multimedia 2010 project Groove Alchemy, Moore decided to explore his straight-ahead jazz influences with a similar focus. “Jazz has been part of my development and a deep love of mine for a long time. Everything I do funk and groove-wise is informed by what I’ve learned playing and studying jazz. I had put myself through what was basically a doctoral program on funk drumming, and I wanted to do the same thing with my jazz playing.”
Moore sent himself back to the jazz woodshed, taking lessons with veteran drummer Kenny Washington and spending time with Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra co-leader Jeff Hamilton, Moore’s partner in the Crescent Cymbal Company. He refined his brush playing by studying the work of Philly Joe Jones—evidenced by his brushwork on “Tchefunkta,” a slinkier transformation of the tune that opens his 1998 solo debut, All Kooked Out!
The New Orleans native called on a pair of veterans from that city’s vibrant, deeply rooted jazz scene to form his new trio. Pianist David Torkanowksy and bassist James Singleton have both played with saxophonist Tony Dagradi’s long-running band Astral Project alongside Moore’s mentor, drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Singleton has also worked with the likes of James Booker, Professor Longhair, Aaron Neville, Joe Henderson, Milt Jackson, Harry Connick Jr. and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Torkanowsky’s credits include work with The Meters, Maceo Parker, Dianne Reeves, Dr. John, Boz Scaggs, George Duke, Kirk Whalum, James Moody and Chuck Berry.
Moore chose Torkanowsky and Singleton for their unparalleled musicianship, versatility, compatibility, and long history together. What he realized only after the fact is that his newly-assembled trio was already a Grammy Award-winning group: they had worked together as the rhythm section for Irma Thomas’ After the Rain, which was named the Best Contemporary Blues Album of 2007. “I always love playing with Stanton,” Singleton says, “and when he got me back together with Tork it became pure inspiration. We all share such deep bonds within very specific musical languages, and the energy keeps growing.”