Michael Moss uses experimental jazz to bring “Helix” to life

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“Helix” is Michael Moss’ latest release. The composer put together an ensemble of 22 musicians to bring “Helix” to life. The group is called Accidental Orchestra as a nod to the moment he was inspired to write one of the songs on “Helix.” The free jazz composer tripped over a curb and suffered a fracture. The song is called “See Sharp or Be Flat.” “Helix” as a whole is not without its quirks. The album succeeds as an experimental album based on a theme – – listeners with traditional expectations of jazz will be surprised or disappointed. But putting traditional restraints on free-flowing experimental jazz is to miss the point of the form.

About Michael Moss

Michael Moss is a native of Chicago, Illinois. He earned his education in Madison, Wisconsin. After leaving the Midwest, Moss became part of the New York jazz scene for the next 50 years. His professional reputation has been built on his mastery of multiple reed instruments, and the creativity and intensity he used in writing songs. Moss is a self-described “farthest-out cat.” He built his musical reputation as part of New York’s famous loft jazz scene. As part of that scene, Moss played with Sam Rivers, Dave Liebman, Paul Bley, Annette Peacock, Elvin Jones and numerous others.

As a result of his vast experiences, Moss is equally at home playing in a duo or in a 50-piece ensemble. He is inspired by music from around the globe and across centuries. Moss has studied in Thailand, Middle East, Ireland and elsewhere across Europe, East Africa, and other places.The various places have inspired different musical styles that Moss has learned to incorporate into his work. From folk melodies to Renaissance orchestras, to Latin, blues and more, Moss has a nearly encyclopedic array of musical influences. According to Moss, he wants to stretch America’s musical heritage into the future while acknowledging its past innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Scott Joplin. With “Helix” it sounds as though he is doing exactly that.

“The Old One” by Michael Moss

The song gets its title from the phrase Einstein used to refer to God. The song is more than 35 minutes long. It should be noted that there are only two actual songs on the CD. But “The Old One” is divided into five parts. The parts are treated as separate songs on system displays.

“Inception” has a running time of nine and a half minutes. It is the first section of “The Old One.” There is nothing off-kilter about the way instruments are played. The arrangement is somewhat mind-bending, but in a way, that is to be expected. The last song in “The Old One” is “The Mind of God.” Given that the album is called “Helix” some listeners might get the impression that the big idea behind the CD is where music comes from, or a more generalized creation story.

“Inception” begins like an orchestral ending. Shrieks of woodwinds, rumbles of percussion make listeners feel as if they have missed the first part of something. Soon after the beginning, the song moves into an off-kilter exchange between string instruments. Less than halfway through, a brass line plays and occasionally gives way to electronic buzzing. Percussion, strings, and woodwinds continue to play as if in another room, paying no attention to what sounds are developing in the song’s forefront.

The song persists in near cacophony that must be dissected to be appreciated. While there are swing elements and other traditional jazz elements, but the form here is completely experimental. This is jazz of big ideas. And probably not for beginning jazz fans. Still, there is an energy and perceptiveness that keeps audiences listening, and that might be the most important thing of all.

“Helix” by Michael Moss will be available March 24, 2018. It can be purchased from Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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