Photos by Arnie Goodman
The phrase “mad genius’ comes to mind after only a few minutes with Patrick Moraz. The classically-trained veteran of Yes and the Moody Blues seems to enjoy breaking new ground with every bar. A full house at the intimate Iridium Jazz Club in New York’s Times Square got a taste of Moraz’s proprietary brand of joy, humor and crazy creativity, and occasionally even joined in.
After one rather brilliant warmup piece in which Moraz played not only the keys on his piano but the strings, the fall board and lid as well, he walked to the apron and began speaking informally to the crowd. I wish I could give you the gist of what he said, but this 50-year stage veteran didn’t seem to notice the microphone left there for his convenience. Finally, Iridium’s General Manager Grace Blake gently directed him to the mic, but by that time Moraz was ready to play again, and play he did. A self-proclaimed fan of drummers, he encouraged the audience to clap along with a riff from “Blue Brains,” at one point rising off his bench like Jerry Lee Lewis, shouting, “It’s fun!” And darn it, it was fun.
One experiences Moraz’s prog repertoire. Some of the music wafted above my head intellectually (see: “Genius”), but just when I thought I was completely lost, he stepped in with a bit of a melody and re-grounded me. That confluence of feeling and intellectual stimulation—the polar opposite of, say, Britney Spears—is an exciting combination.
Moraz, who is Swiss, shows his European influences. One number began evoking a Chopin Interlude, but grew dark and ominous along the way. In short order, it evolved into what could pass as background music to a French art film, then, the soundtrack to a dark and stormy night. That he could make these disparate themes not only work together but belong together in a four or six-minute song is, well, genius.
One song, a Brazilian cachaça, was based on two notes, and Moraz explained the roles of various Brazilian percussionists, and how this song evolved out of a jam in Bahia, Brazil. He then proceeded to play another incredibly intricate piece, with the audience clapping on the two notes, both of which passed by at lightning speed. He introduced his last song as the first movement of a modular symphony which is based on one single note. “Which note is that?” Moraz asked, giggling. “This one! [He plays a note.] The ‘A,’ so you don’t even have to know the alphabet!” He cued up an orchestral recording and played brilliantly, the only non-solo piece of the night.
A brief note on the sound, which at the Iridium, home to Les Paul, is normally excellent. This night the piano sounded positively brilliant. GM Blake said the instrument is tuned before every set, but it wasn’t just the spot-on tuning, but the piano’s absolute radiance that night which was remarkable.
An evening with Patrick Moraz is no sing-along (although at one point Moraz did get us to sing several names of God—none familiar to me or, I suspect to anyone else at the Iridium that night), but it you love music and like to stretch, you won’t do much better than an evening with the funny, goofy genius of Patrick Moraz.