Diane Moser Quintet

Music for the Last Flower
Planet Arts Recordings 301325

By Ken Waxman

Almost flawlessly composed and performed, Music for the Last Flower is unjustly unknown program music, composed in 2003, which receives its long overdue recording debut. An eight-part suite inspired by James Thurber’s 1939 book, the nuanced performance highlights the similarly unjustly under-praised writing and playing skills of New Jersey-based pianist Diane Moser, an educator and music director of the Composers Big Band.

Structuring her anti-war musical fable so that the brutal noises of combat and bucolic intimations of love, peace and flowers are present, Moser never overplays the programmatic concept, ensuring that the suite makes its point through hearty helping of advanced, swinging jazz. Following a cacophonous free-for-all introduction, the dynamic theme with echoes of Sun Ra’s more restrained arrangements, is first exposed and reappears in diverse guises throughout the suite. Most impressive throughout is the invigorating work of fleet trombonist Ben Williams, another Jerseyite. On the moving “…love is reborn…” for instance when a polyphonic theme variation arrives, it’s the trombonist’s balanced tongue flutters that incites a staccato response, that soon includes sharp boppish lines from Marty Ehrlich’s alto saxophone. Meanwhile the rhythmic connections bubble underneath via Moser, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway. Later plunger lowing from the trombone joins kinetic piano lines to attain a descriptive climax.

Dresser’s strummed percussiveness and Hemingway’s measured clip-clops are put to good use when the writing calls for bellicose emphasis. Yet while Moser’s sophisticated composing includes space to reflect violence with sequences of tremolo emphasis, tranquility is expressed with the same facility. Most moving are tracks such as “…when love is no longer…” and “…she finds a flower…” as Moser’s richly textured syncopation almost makes you feel the child-like despondency with the first and subsequent joy in germinating floral discovery in the second

Decisively conclusive, “…a hope for peace…” connects earlier narrative variations with harmonized horn parts, presaging Moser’s cunning note placement and Dresser’s moderated plucks that create a sense of normalcy. This cheerful concept is subtly reinforced with a subtle coda of interlocking string voicing. The only question remaining about Music for the Last Flower is why Diane Moser’s talent isn’t better recognized.

Track Listing: “…towards the end of WWXII…”; “…when love is no longer…”; “…she finds a flower…”; “…love is reborn…”; “…still not learning the lessons of war…”; “…a hope for peace…”

Personnel: Ben Williams: trombone; Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone and clarinet; Diane Moser: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record July 2014