The Green Mill Jazz Club doesn't usually fall to a hush on a rowdy Friday night, but it did as midnight approached.
With guitarist John Moulder leading an inspired quintet, the music-making often achieved a quiet serenity, bringing a capacity audience to a whisper. There's simply no way to converse when music of such profundity and grace is unfolding.
Moulder has been a leading figure in Chicago jazz for a couple of decades, largely thanks to the ferocity and technical prowess of his improvisations. But the music he produced for his newest CD, "Bifrost" (Origin Records), represents a new level of introspection and stylistic originality from him. As on the CD, Moulder's work at the Green Mill attained textural delicacy without slipping into easy-listening cliches.
Though Moulder wasn't sharing the stage with the two Norwegian musicians who appear on the CD (tenor saxophonist Bendik Hofseth and bassist Arild Anderson), he nevertheless evoked the tonal luster of the recording. As on the CD Moulder benefited from the hypersensitive contributions of his Chicago collaborators - percussionist Paul Wertico and bassist Brian Peters.
These three musicians stood at the core of this music - Wertico's great splashes of sound and rumbling layers of rhythm under-girded by Peters' deeply sonorous bass work. Add to the mix Muriel Anderson's diaphonous accompaniments on acoustic guitar and Nick Bisesi's urgent phrases on soprano and tenor saxophones, and you have the rare ensemble capable of both poetry and power.
Every piece Moulder and the band played had something to recommend it, but a few stood out.
In "Echoes of Home," Moulder played acoustic guitar so softly and discreetly that his work might have become inaudible but for the rapt attention of the crowd. Or, perhaps, it's more accurate to say that Moulder's playing melded seamlessly into the sound of the ensemble, which yielded wave after wave of warmly voiced chords. The radiant, life-affirming glow of this music was unmistakable.
Yet anyone who thought Moulder had put aside his more extroverted fare might have been startled by the epic scale and shattering climaxes of the title piece of his CD, "Bifrost." The opus started big and built from there, Moulder cutting loose with fast-flying runs and soaring, long-held notes.
And in "African Sunset," a long-standing piece in Moulder's repertoire, the guitarist gathered tremendous sonic force by playing fast and hard in the lowest registers of the instrument. Here, as elsewhere in this set, he was unstoppable.