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Pianist Jason Moran takes on ambitious Civil Rights piece for Detroit Jazz Fest event

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Jason Moran says that the opportunity to perform the late Dave Brubeck's "Gates of Justice" orchestral jazz epic is "a real treat."

And, the pianist adds, it's "daunting."

"Composers and improvising musicians who decide to write larger works are very rare," says Moran, 39, who will perform "Gates of Justice" -- which Brubeck wrote after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968 -- with his trio, Bandwagon, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, a 60-voice choir and a 15-piece brass and percussion ensemble for this year's Detroit Jazz Festival's "Jazz Speaks For Life" Black History Month concert. "The canon is pretty small for that kind of music.

"And Brubeck's addition to this canon is massive. Instruments are one thing, but a choir of voices on top of that is a whole other sound and feeling. So I want to play it in a way that honors the space that he set up and the kid of pianist that he is and the kind of ambition that he has as a composer. Those are things I aim for in my career, so this is a real treat."

Moran is, in fact, working on a pair of large-scale classical commissions himself, one from the Chicago Symphony Commission and the other from the New York-based Imani Winds. Meanwhile, he and Bandwagon are recording something more modest in scale but equally ambitious in scope, a collection of Fats Waller songs that's an outgrowth of the Fat Waller Dance Party concerts the group has been playing around the country.

"It's Fats Waller's music kind of through the prism of looking at it mostly like dance music, but contemporary dance music or funk-soul music," Moran explains. "He represents a kind of entertainer who has extreme technical ability and extreme silliness at the same time. He's kind of this strange person that I've been attracted to for the last couple of years, and I'm really enjoying making this record."

"Jazz Speaks For Life," featuring Jason Moran & the Bandwagon, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, the Detroit Brass and Percussion Ensemble, a 60-voice choir and more takes place at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.detroitjazzfest.com

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