Sacred music does not typically unfold in gritty jazz clubs.
But considering that the headliner at the Green Mill over the weekend was a Catholic priest, the rarefied choice of material seemed thoroughly appropriate.
Though guitarist John Moulder has been performing and recording steadily here for the past couple of decades, he achieved an artistic high point in 2006 when he released "Trinity" (Origin Records). Like Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts and John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Moulder's "Trinity" addressed themes of faith and divinity, in a jazz context.
This often exalted music dominated Moulder's first set Friday night, a fine choice considering the holiday season that approaches.
In "Trinity," Moulder explores the deepest themes imaginable. Movements such as "Chaos," "Creation" and "Resurrection" attest to the breadth of the composer's vision and the intellectual rigor of his best work.
If the soaring melodic lines and unstoppable rhythmic sway of "Creation" established the quality of Moulder's writing, the music that followed underscored his gifts as improviser.
Even when Moulder was playing full-tilt, producing fast-flying lines of considerable complexity, the easy flow of his ideas and luster of his sound were unmistakable.
When Moulder and his quartet ventured into the climactic "Freedom" movement of "Trinity," the musicmaking took on a New Orleans hue. Its second-line parade rhythms and feverish blues exhortations underscored Moulder's message: that all-American jazz can express divine aspirations as eloquently as any genre (if not more so).
Among the evening's other highlights was a newly penned ballad, "About Us," for which Moulder put down his electric guitar and went acoustic. Who would have guessed that a guitarist who pours so much fire-and-brimstone into his plugged-in work could also play with such sensitivity and grace?
In this piece, and others, Moulder benefited from the work of Chicago drummer-percussionist Paul Wertico, whose keen sense of time and color distinguish him from most of his peers.