Mose Allison - piano; Victor Gaskin - bass; Paul Motian - drums
The idiosyncratic, blues-drenched pianist-vocalist-composer from Tippo, Mississippi has always swung in his own unique orbit. And though he's been called "the William Faulkner of jazz" for his wry, incisively witty ditties delivered in a one-of-a-kind laconic style that he's been known for worldwide for more than 50 years, Mose Allison prefers to think of himself as having more in common with writer Kurt Vonnegut, whose grasp of existential absurdity was sublime. Early on in his career, Allison was a bop-inspired pianist who played sideman to the likes of tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. But with the release of his 1957 Prestige debut, Back Country Suite (which featured his "Young Man Blues," later covered by The Who), Mose became something of a phenomenon on the jazz-blues scene. His appearance at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York came nine years after his first Newport concert (in its original Rhode Island location) in 1964, when he was accompanied by bassist Slam Stewart and drummer Jo Jones. Performing outdoors at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, Allison was joined on this afternoon concert by former Cannonball Adderley bassist Victor Gaskin and former Bill Evans Trio drummer Paul Motian, who had played on Mose's classic 1965 Atlantic album Wild Man on the Loose.
They open this Wollman Rink set with the hard-driving instrumental "War Horse," which has Allison showcasing his prodigious piano chops in a distinctive style that defies easy categorization, alluding to the bop and boogie woogie he grew up with in Mississippi while also make ambitious stretches into Thelonious Monk-Nat Cole territory. Gaskin and Motian are also each prominently featured in lengthy, unaccompanied solos on this spirited opener. Next up is the swinging and slightly cynical ditty "Just Like Livin'," which Mose introduced on 1968's I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin': I've been doing some thinking about the nature of the universe/I found out things are getting better, it's just people that are getting worse/I've been doing some thinking about the future of the human race/If people don't stop killing people it's gonna be a hopeless case/Well ain't that just like living, just toil and strife/Ain't that just like living, whatever happened to real life?
Allison's country boy perspective on big city life is delivered with verve and a touch of down-home humor on his pointed slow blues "City Home" (which he introduced on 1960's Transfiguration of Hiram Brown and reprised on 1968's I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin') and also on his frisky blues "If You're Going to the City" (which he introduced on 1966's Swingin' Machine). He next turns in a decidedly down-home take on Duke Ellington's "I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues," which he sings with jive-inspired flair. His runaway, cascading piano solo in the middle of this bit of Ellingtonia is classic Mose. The man from Tippo closes his '73 Newport Jazz Festival in New York set with a frantic, jumped-up rendition of Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son," which Mose has recorded in the early '60s.
An eternal hipster, Allison's influence on the British rock scene has been especially profound. His "Young Man Blues," from his 1957 debut on Prestige, Back Country Suite, was covered by the Who on 1970's Live at Leeds while the Yardbirds covered his "I'm Not Talking" on 1965's For Your Love, the Clash covered his "Look Here" on 1980's Sandanista! and Elvis Costello covered his "Your Mind is On Vacation" on 1985's King of America and "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy on 1995's Kojak Variety. In 1996, Van Morrison released an entire album of Mose covers entitled Tell Me Something: The Music of Mose Allison. In a BBC documentary on Allison entitled "Ever Since I Stole the Blues," the Who's Pete Townshend offers this personal testimony about the man from Tippo, Mississippi: "Without Mose, I wouldn't have written 'My Generation.'"
He had a string of successful albums through the '80s and '90s for the Blue Note label, including 1987's Ever Since the World Ended, 1989's My Backyard, 1993's The Earth Wants You and 1997's Gimcracks and Gewgaws. His most recent recording, produced by Joe Henry for the indie label Anti Records, was 2010's The Way of the World. Henry captures the essence of the enigmatic Mose in one insightful passage to the liner notes of that album: "For many of us, Mose Allison has long stood as a great swaying bridge spanning our strange, stormy times: linking the fifties to the present; the mystical country blues to the urbanity of jazz; tough beat poetry to wistful self-reflection; seduction to candor, heart to mind, wit to wisdom; Mark Twain straight through to Willie Dixon, with Chico Marx barking directions from the backseat, James Stewart at the wheel." At age 84, Allison shows no signs of slowing down. Like the Mississippi River, Mose just keeps rolling along. (Bill Milkowski)