Eddie Moore is diligently pulling Kansas City’s jazz scene into the 21st century. Since moving here from Houston in 2010, the 30-year-old keyboardist has done as much as any jazz-oriented musician to bring Kansas City up to date.
Moore’s background has provided him with an expansive perspective that permeates his vibrant new Kings & Queens. In addition to his immersion in the church-based sounds infusing the jazz, R&B and hip-hop of his native Houston, he collaborates with an astonishing array of acts in Kansas City. Moore regularly performs in reggae and indie-rock bands and leads a monthly jam session that welcomes rappers as well as jazz musicians.
His inclusive approach may be anathema to hermetic members of the jazz community. But Kings & Queens, released by the Philadelphia-based Ropeadope Records, honors jazz tradition while sounding entirely contemporary because Moore and his bandmates in the Outer Circle emphasize melodic grooves rather than flamboyant soloing.
Kings & Queens opens with a brief sample of a Congolese rhythm that connects to an aggressive salvo by drummer Pat Adams on the first movement of Moore’s three-part “Kings & Queens” suite. The implication is clear: Moore’s forward-thinking sounds are part of the rich continuum of African-American music that continues to be imbued with indigenous African elements.
It’s a sweeping instrumental evocation of African-American history, but in spite of its imposing premise, the 26-minute composition isn’t ponderous. Expressive playing by Moore, Adams, guitarist Adam Schlozman and electric bassist DeAndre Manning is captivatingly dramatic rather than grandiose.
The Outer Circle’s remarkable sensitivity and cohesive interplay reflect the group’s durability – these musicians have been working together for a few years, and Kings & Queens is the ensemble’s third album. The “Kings & Queens” suite and the reflective ballad “Bathroom Wardrobe” were first documented on last year’s Live in Kansas City album, but the updated interpretations reveal Moore’s ongoing progression.
Once heavily in sway of Robert Glasper, another keyboardist and bandleader from Houston who is heralded for his artful melding of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, Moore now demonstrates a singular vision.
That works to great effect on “The LBC,” which Moore introduces with a spiraling phrase on electric keyboards before he and the band lock into a mighty groove. Even though it lacks vocals, “The LBC” displays the momentum and structure of a memorable pop song.
Guest saxophonist Daniel Robinson is a similarly impressive composer. His “Aural Denial” initially evokes one of Vince Guaraldi's beloved Peanuts themes before taking a sinister turn.
The eloquent instrumentals indicate that Moore and his bandmates don’t need lyrics or hashtags to convey a powerful message. The album title, its Egyptian-themed cover art and its potent music are a moving tribute to the kings and queens among us and to the accomplishments of their ancestors. And Moore makes it clear that in spite of his youth, he merits consideration as a member of Kansas City’s jazz royalty.
Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle perform at 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 3, at Mills Record Company, 4045 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111; 816-960-3775.
Bill Brownlee’s writing appears weekly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. He blogs about Kansas City’s jazz scene at Plastic Sax.