Jason Moran's eye-catching eddies stutter at Milton Court

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Jason Moran knows how to create a spectacle. He likes film and contemporary art and it shows. The most remarkable thing about All Rise, his recent tribute to Fats Waller, was the audacity of the arrangements, which captured Waller's essence while radically reinventing his music and illuminating the darker corners of his psyche. But the visuals were a close second. At the Montreux Jazz Festival last year there were riotous fabrics draped across the stage and Moran sat down at the piano wearing a Haitian carnival mask – a giant Waller head complete with ribald, raised eyebrows and a smoldering cigarette. Along with Esperanza Spalding, whose Emily's D+Evolution live set borders on surrealist theatre, he's one of the few jazz musicians to go in for stage shows.

'Wind', a new commission from Jazztopad Festival in Wrocław recognising the city's status as one of this year's European Capitals of Culture, might be his most outlandish show yet. For the UK premiere at Milton Court, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the stage was dominated by a giant marquee made from white lace curtains, embroidered with birds and flowers. Behind that was a white lace train the height of the room, illuminated by squares of light. When Moran's Bandwagon trio took their places in the tent, at the heart of a Polish chamber ensemble, the walls became a shadow theatre dominated by the looming figure of drummer Nasheet Waits.

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By comparison, the music was a little underwhelming – meandering at times and seemingly under-rehearsed with some slightly suspect brass playing. But there were affecting moments all the same: squally improv from the Bandwagon trio, underscored by organ drones or spotlit by Marvin Sewell's gleaming guitar lines; and passages of piano and fractured, reedy, half-bowed cello and violin – the sound of early morning sunlight and folkloric romance, a sound that tugs at the heartstrings.

Elsewhere there were street beats, R&B jams, stirring melodies and sombre themes. The transitions between improvisation and through-composition worked well. The emotional range was satisfying and broad. There were times when the piece felt like a film score. The tent and the curtains were inspired by a visit to Wrocław's famous Świebodzki Flea Market. The score described a city with catholic taste.

– Thomas Rees
– Photos by Tim Dickeson

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