Guitarist John Moulder captivated the Green Mill crowd last weekend as he performed tracks from his recent release Bifrost
(pronounced "bee-frost" - see our review here) along with material from his previous albums. Moulder was backed, as usual, by longtime associate - drummer Paul Wertico. Brian Peters - who produced Bifrost
played electric fretless bass and dudek, and made his live debut on acoustic bass. The talented young man did well in following in the footsteps of veteran bassist Arild Andersen, who played on the recording. Saxophonist Nick Bisesi (Ramsey Lewis, Ray Charles) and Nashville finger-picking guitar star Muriel Anderson rounded out this talented group.
Opening the evening with the haunting "Cold Sea Triptych" from Bifrost, Moulder started off with a spellbinding guitar solo. Peters joined in on dudek before switching over to electric bass. Bisesi followed and was a pleasant surprise with his tenor work. Meanwhile, second guitarist Anderson handled the often tricky twists of Moulder's compositions on her beautiful new harp guitar. Wertico is one of the more interesting drummers around - the former Pat Metheny band member has the technique to handle the shifting time signatures without breaking a sweat, while creating a wide range of dynamics from soft and sensitive support to crashing walls of sound. He is the perfect drummer to interpret Moulder's music - which moves from light and airy to complex and polyrhythmic. The two play together as if they are having a musical conversation. The live version of this incredible composition was a highlight not only of the set, but of the entire year.
"Watch Your Step" (also from the new album) followed and showcased Moulder's interest in folk-style music. This down-home crowd-pleaser was a delight, with its deceptively odd meters disguised by its good time feel. Another Bifost highlight - "Time Being" ended the first set with a flourish with Moulder breaking a string at the climax.
The second set featured the powerful title track "Bifrost" with its shifting time signature in 11 (alternating 6/4-5/4 and 5/4-6/4), "Freedom" and "Creation" from John's excellent Trinity album from 2006, "Echoes of Home" and "Magical Space" from Bifrost, and another longtime crowd favorite - "African Sunset." This 5/4 burner from Awakening is a staple of John's shows and gave Biesi a chance to shine on soprano and Wertico the spotlight to solo with a barrage of African-flavored rhythms. Moulder's work on guitar throughout was central and showcased his masterful technique and tone.
The final set on Friday included "The Eleventh Hour" - also played in 11/4 time. Anderson, who negotiated the difficult and idiosyncratic Moulder "rhythm" guitar parts with grace was given the spotlight in a duet with Wertico on her "Baker's Dozen," on which she showcased her finger-picking on this number in 13/4. The burning hot "Cowboys and Africans" ended the evening with a final burst of energy. This concert featured great music played very well in one of the best shows of the entire year.