Michael Moore - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, melodica, bells
Lindsey Horner - bass
Michael Vatcher - drums, percussion
Explorations of the music of Bob Dylan for reeds, bass and percussion.
"At first blush, the idea of Amsterdam-based clarinetist Michael Moore paying tribute to Bob Dylan in a year when so many others are marking the songwriter's 60th birthday might seem a bit odd, but then recall that Clusone Trio covered Dylan's obscure "Love Henry" on its 1996 live recording and it all begins to make sense. In brief liner notes, Moore remarks how Dylan blends traditional song forms and unique visual imagery and explains that 'Jewels and Binoculars' sets out to explore both the melodic roots of Dylan's songs and the poet's vivid palette. The result is an impressive triumph that defies categorization.
The choice of material is centered in the period when Dylan still looked to other sources - English folk songs, Civil War ballads, the blues - for melodies, with the bulk of the 11 pieces coming from the early 60's, including "Boots of Spanish Leather", "Fourth Time Around" and "Dear Landlord." In some instances the choice of song seems inspired and anything but obvious. A case in point is "Percy's Song", an early concert favorite of Dylan's that wasn't released officially until the 1985 Biograph box set. One of the few songs that Dylan admits to borrowing - from prolific songwriter Paul Clayton - it has a memorable melody with a resolve hook that was a perfect match for Dylan's lyrics. Moore, bassist Horner and percussionist Vatcher give it a bustling, fluid treatment, fueled by Vatcher's supple brushwork, and succeed in creating the perfect tribute: one that makes a musical statement that stands on its own while driving you back to the original, as well.
The improvisational approach the band takes elsewhere is equally compelling, with Horner defining a riff, Moore extrapolating the melody and Vatcher providing color on bells, woodblocks and, only occasionally, the drums. In their hands, "Highway 61 Revisited" gets boiled down to its roadhouse blues basics, with Horner thumping out the "have it on Highway 61" line over and over; "With God on Our Side" becomes a raging excursion into free jazz; and "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" has a klezmer-inflected chorus that nods to Dylan's Jewish roots."
James Hale, Coda, March/April 2002
"[This] Dylan project sounds as if Moore has paved a peaceful, rural shoulder along Highway 61. The recording addresses the lyrical genius of Dylan and American folk music in general from an acute angle. Jewels and Binoculars confronts us with a scarcely recognized paradigm - that jazz music has folk roots. Evidence to this can be witnessed elsewhere, as with Junk Genius's Ghost of Electricity (Songlines), where clarinetist Ben Goldberg and guitarist John Schott attempt to build original folk music within jazz structure from the ground up. This however is the first time that a creative jazz artist has paid homage with a tribute recording to the music of Bob Dylan, and it has been done with both class and affection. Moore's is a refined approach to the music. Midway through "Visions of Johanna" we find his clarinet surging forward into anthemic territory, as if searching for uncovered features to the song's subjects. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and "Dear Landlord" are wondrously played, with Lindsey Horner's bass bringing new colors to their melodies. The interplay between Moore and drummer Michael Vatcher is often stimulating, particularly when Moore is wielding the clarinet. As a whole, there is a blend of courage and melancholy in the tunes, which owes largely to the careful sequencing of the record. Bob Dylan should be flattered, as his music here is imaginatively interpreted with gorgeous instrumentation, while treated with obliging respect."
"Bob Dylan's focus is on words, messages, and simple melodies that speak to the soul... Stripped of their pop rhythms and vocals, the songs stand on their own as attractive melodies with hooks and nooks. It doesn't hurt to have the kind of extraordinary talent comprising this trio. Dylan's voice might sound like a stretched cello string, but there is no imitation here... Moore's clarinet (particularly the bass clarinet) sings sonorously, faithful to the original tunes. Moore sticks pretty close to the melody, adding flourishes here and there, but with Horner and Vatcher behind him, the results, while not revolutionary, are never less than fascinating. Horner is particularly forceful on acoustic bass, where he pushes the edges (but only the edges) with a preternatural intensity..."
Steven Loewy - Cadence, February 2002
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