Music for the Last Flower is program music, composed in 2003, which receives its long overdue documentation. An eight-part suite inspired by James Thurber’s 1939book, the nuanced performance highlights the writing and playing of pianist Diane Moser.
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 helpings of advanced yet swinging jazz. Following a cacophonous free-for-all introduction, the dynamic theme is first exposed, reappearing in diverse guises throughout the suite. The invigorating work of fleet trombonist Ben Williams is impressive;on the moving “…love is reborn…”, for instance, when a polyphonic theme variation arrives, his balanced tongue flutters incite a staccato response, which soon includes sharp boppish lines from Marty Ehrlich’s alto saxophone while rhythmic connections bubble underneath via Moser,bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway.
Strummed bass percussiveness and measured drum clip-clops are put to good use when the writing calls for bellicose emphasis. Moser’s sophisticated composing includes space to reflect violence with sequences of tremolo emphasis but tranquility is expressed with the same facility. Tracks such as“…when love is no longer…” and “…she finds a flower…” are the most moving, Moser’s richly textured syncopation almost making one feel the child-like despondency with the first and subsequent joy in germinating floral discovery in the second.
“…a hope for peace…” connects earlier narrative variations with harmonized horn parts, presaging Moser’s cunning note placement and Dresser’s moderated plucks to create a sense of normalcy. This cheerful concept is reinforced with a subtle coda of interlocking string voicings. Music for the Last Flower begs the question why its composer’s talent isn’t better recognized.
By Ken Waxman, New York City Jazz Record July 2014