LIVE: “Anything Mose” @ The Falcon, 6/9/18

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Review by J Hunter
Video by Rudy Lu

For someone who lives for snark as much as I do, Mose Allison was a godsend. Show me a better putdown than “Your mind is on vacation / And your mouth is working overtime!” Show me a better pickup line than, “Your molecular structure is really somethin’ fine / A first-rate example of functional design!” Allison’s best takedowns first appeared 50 to 60 years ago, but they remain robust for the same reason Shakespeare and Mark Twain remain robust: Great, funny, intelligent writing will never, ever die. Mind you, it helps when there are talented, dedicated people devoted to keeping it in front of us, and that’s where Richard Julian and the John Chin Quartet’ “Anything Mose” project comes in.

What started five years ago with an email and a single show at Smalls in NYC has become an ongoing Thing, with its own fan base and the possibility of a CD release sometime in the future. I know, I know – this is a “cover band” we’re talking about here. But if you listen to Julian and Chin take Allison’s compositions and stretch them ever so slightly, you not only realize how fresh this material still is when performed with the proper mix of reverence and creativity, but you also recognize how superior these tunes are to almost every vocal project on the current menu.

The return of “Anything Mose” at The Falcon in Marlboro started with a building crescendo that led to Allison’s sage advice to every country mouse, “If You’re Goin’ to the City.” Julian – dressed to the Hipster Chic nines, from short-brimmed fedora to pink short-sleeved shirt and fur-lined denim vest – was frighteningly accurate as far as the vocals go, not only duplicating Allison’s tone and intonation, but also nailing that unspoken stinkeye Mose gave to almost all his protagonists. While the arrangement itself was right down the middle, the expansion came from the addition of hot tenor sax by Keith Loftis. While I loved the element, I was pleased when the band kicked into the slow blues that traditionally went with the last verse. Some things simply don’t need to be improved.

The Project’s creative expansion continued when Julian jumped onto acoustic guitar for the next song, “I Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” Little things mean a lot, and giving the rhythm a little more oomph made it all taste that much better. Not that the foundation needed any help: When you’ve got Mark Ferber on drums and Matt Pavolka on bass, King Kong could do calisthenics on your foundation, and it would still come back for more. That said, the guitar’s gifts were three-fold: Aside from pushing the beat and giving Chin more room to stick and move, it also brought a folk-music gloss to the proceedings, reminding us that Allison’s later contemporaries included acoustic wordsmiths like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Rush.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not enough to simply give respect to Allison’s lyrics, because the Tippo, MS native was also a badass piano player. That’s where Chin comes in. Not only has he shone on his own instrumental releases, but his extensive work with Rene Marie has given Chin a thorough understanding of the kind of support a vocalist needs. So when he wasn’t keeping things bubbling under Julian’s sterling takes on the still-hilariously-spot-on “Middle Class White Boy” and the stinging indictment “Everyone’s Crying Mercy,” Chin was having nothing but fun supercharging Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” (a piece that showed where Allison’s lyrical influence originated), expanding Mose’s chain-gang work song “On Parchman Farm” and rocking on the rolling intro to “Your Molecular Structure.”

This was Loftis’ first gig with the Project, subbing for regular saxman Stacy Dillard (who actually was playing in Greater Nippertown that night with Michael-Louis Smith & Brooklyn Circle). Loftis and Chin are neighbors in Brooklyn, which was both lucky and convenient. With only a few hesitations, Loftis dove into the material headfirst and brought extra energy to an already-lively set. His soprano sax brought brightness to the dark blues “Stop This World,” and his tenor was pure funky pleasure the group’s uptempo treatment of “Your Mind Is on Vacation.”

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Mose Allison twice before he passed – once at Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival and once at the original Caffe Lena, where he played duo with longtime bassist Rich Syracuse. Both gigs were great, but I treasure the Lena show for both its intimacy and its spontaneity: Allison was actually subbing for an act that had to cancel, so Mose was working on the fly that night. “Anything Mose” brought back that same spirit, that same joy and that same sense of divine snark that the late great singer-songwriter gifted us all for many decades. Here’s hoping more of the world gets that taste in its creative mouth in short order.

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