By Michael Katz
Stop this world/Let me off/There’s too many pigs/At the same trough.
Has there ever been a better time for Mose Allison? Quasi-repentant bankers being hauled before Congress while California and New York go broke, health care parsed and bartered into a thousand call-me-in-2014 pages. For those of us Mose-a-holics, his lyrics pop into our heads these days like thought bubbles. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert may be getting most of the media buzz, but Mose has been doing this for decades.
Still, as clever and biting as the lyrics are, there’s nothing quite like hearing Mose Allison in person, when the sometimes gloomy message is delivered cheerfully, Allison still delightfully roguish at 83. Saturday night, a near capacity house filled the Largo at the Coronet, as part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series. The setting was perfect for Allison – his piano, backed up by the estimable bassist Tom Warrington, nearly filled the stage. It’s a warm, acoustically balanced room, the two instruments meshing perfectly despite the ad hoc nature of the pairing. Allison read off the number codes of his tunes like a quarterback calling audibles, Warrington responding with clear, crisp bass lines and the occasional bright solo.
Allison opened up with a piano blues – he has lost none of his chops, his hands gliding effortlessly across the keyboard in an impish, off minor style. It sounded a little Monkish, but clearly in service to Allison’s particular wit and literacy. From there he segued into a number of his own compositions, starting with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and continuing with some of his standards: “City Home,” “Stop This World” and “Your Molecular Structure.” Allison mixed in works of other composers along the way, as well. “Meet Me At No Special Place” has become such a signature piece of his that we forget it comes from the Nat King Cole songbook. “You Call It Joggin’ (but I call it runnin’ around), a more recent staple in his show, comes from the Tennessee songwriter John Loudermilk. Allison also tinkered with the chord structure of “You Are My Sunshine,” changing the sometimes sappy standard into a statement of lingering loss.
It was particularly enjoyable to note that Allison continues to reach out to new audiences – you could tell by the laughter evoked from songs familiar to longtime fans, like “Ever Since The World Ended,” “Who’s In, Who’s Out,” and “What’s Your Movie.” About the only concession to age was an occasional slipped lyric, probably only noticeable to those of us who know them all. There were times when one wished for a slightly larger ensemble – Allison has had some wonderful guitar work from the likes of Kenny Burrell and John Scofield on more recent albums. On the other hand, his performance of “Monsters of the Id,” which was recorded with a horn section that muffled the lyrics somewhat, was happily crystal clear at the Largo:
No need to lock the door/They’re sprouting through the cracks/They’re making room for more/They’re deputizing maniacs.
Anybody we know?
Mose Allison brought the set home with the hopefully prophetic “You Can’t Push People Around” and closed it out with his lilting version of Muddy Waters’ “I Love The Life I Live.”
That was a sentiment shared by everyone present.