Throughout his 25 years on the scene, Charnett Moffett has been a man on a mission. As he states,"I'm trying to bring people together on the planet through music. That's part of my calling here in life." That sentiment, coupled with his extraordinary virtuosity on the bass, has resulted in a string of superb outings as a leader as well significant contributions to stellar recordings by such jazz luminaries as Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. On The Art of Improvisation, his 10th as a leader, Moffett explores his creative muse with a pure, free-spirited approach on his three chosen instruments -- upright bass, fretless electric bass guitar and piccolo bass. "Each is a separate voice," explains the innovative, multi-directional bassist and prolific composer. "And when I incorporate the bow or a wah-wah or distortion effects, I can channel even more voices."
Moffett is joined by different special guests from track to track throughout The Art Of Improvisation, including drummers Will Calhoun and Eric McPherson, keyboardist Scott Brown, guitarists Pat Jones and Steve Barnes and trumpeter Robert Joseph Avalon. Angela Moffett appears on the stirring rendition of "Dreams," reciting the inspiring words of poet Langston Hughes. His son, Charnett Max Moffett, also appears on drums on "Dreams" while the father-son duo is showcased on "Swing Rock" and on the dynamic closer, an electrifying, Hendrix-inspired interpretation of "The Star Spangled Banner."
"I'm just trying to be true to form," Moffett says of this highly eclectic outing. "All you can do is be who you are anyway, so you might as well go ahead and play all of the music that you enjoy. There's a lot of great music out here on the planet. We should use all of it."
Charnett explains that the opening free jazz blowout "Dreams" was inspired by Ornette Coleman's double quartet on the landmark recording Free Jazz. "I wanted to create an atmosphere on that piece which was similar to what I had experienced with him in his Sound Museum band. The other idea behind the piece is you really try to dream whatever your mission is in life, to make the atmosphere work in a more cohesive place. As jazz artists we all have a responsibility, just as doctors and politicians have their responsibilies. It's our job to make sure we're continuing to stimulate the thought process for human beings so that we enlighten our awareness and challenge ourselves to new horizons through different elements of sound." He adds that the spoken word piece from the Langston Hughes poem in this tune is a message "about being tied into the American Dream and to continue to dream as a human being regardless of who you are."
On "Call for Peace," Moffett colors his arco work with wah-wah pedal in a stirring duet with Tibetan vocalist Yun Chen Lhamo. "She's highly respected in many countries and it was an honor to be able to have a musical dialogue with her," says Charnett. "She exemplifies the extraordinary excellence of what I would say is natural purity in a voice without it being superficial or affected in any way. The way she sings and phrases, she's in and out of all the keys at the same time. And when you're playing a fretless instrument that allows you to experiment with those possibilities, you can really get some other nuances and subtleties that you can't accomplish with an instrument like the piano. Because you're bending the notes, which comes from a whole other spectrum of music that is not necessarily Western orientated."
On the title track, a daring solo bass excursion on upright bass, Charnett incorporates an unorthodox technique which has become one of his signatures. By tapping the strings with the bow down by the bridge while fingering notes on the neck of the bass with his left hand, he is able to achieve a tonal percussive effect that is not unlike the Brazilian berimbau or African diddly-bow. "That's originally a classical technique, except they deal with a different part of the bow," he explains. "I just deal with what's comfortable for my hand." He adds that the tune "The Art Of Improvisation" has become an audience favorite in concert. "It's a good expression piece, and I find that when I play it, people always respond to it very positively. It's music for healing, it's a stress-buster. It's more of an organic expression to release a tension, like meditation, in an abstract way. "
"The Awakening" is a trio piece with pianist Scott Brown and guitarist Pat Jones that features more virtuosic bowing by Charnett on the upright. "On this tune with Scott and Pat it's kind of like a trade that 's going on, like a circle where one guy takes over the line and is expressing his ideas while the others are complementing. So we're going around, supporting each other based off of the theme of the melody. That's inspired by some of the stuff that I heard Stanley Clarke do with Jean-Luc Ponty and Al Di Meola. I guess instinctively it's in me somewhere."
"We Pray" has Charnett creating a low-end choir by layering three separate bass parts and Calhoun supporting with supple brushwork. It's an effect inspired by his recent work with Ornette Coleman. "I was coming off a tour with Ornette where we had three bassists -- me on the upright wah-bass, Al McDowell on fretless electric and Tony Falanga doing some brilliant arco work on upright bass. And this particular tune reflects that whole experience with Ornette. It's my composition with the three different instruments that I like to express my voice in."
"Moses" is a Middle Eastern flavored trio number with pianist Brown and drummer McPherson that features Charnett's considerable slapping-popping technique on fretless electric bass guitar while "Swing Rock" is an energized romp with his son Charnett Max on drums. "That's a real treat," says Charnett of his duo jam with his 20-year-old son. "It's just stuff that we've been doing for years based on the concept freedom and discipline, which is kind of an old philosophy and how we grew up playing in the Moffett Family Band. So for me, that was like having dessert after dinner."
"Enlightenment" is a two-part suite that opens with a graceful, introspective solo bass statement on piccolo bass guitar before heading into a wah-wah-soaked, raga influenced jam on the same instrument with drummer Calhoun in Part 2. "Elements of Life" is a solo upright bass piece that showcases Charnett's formidable pizzicato technique while on "The Story," an explosive duet piece with drummer Will Calhoun, he bears down on the upright with extreme intensity, tapping the strings percussively with the bow while simultaneously utilizing the wah-wah pedal. "I see the wah-wah like the bow," says Charnett. "My bow is a part of my sound. The wah-wah is an extension of my sound and it's close to a voice, especially when you bow it."
The collection closes on a raucous note with an edgy rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" played on fretless electric bass with distortion pedal set on stun and wah-wah pedal fully engaged. It features Moffett's son Charnett Max on drums. "People think I'm playing the anthem for political reasons or whatever, but I just like the song. So it's become my own personal standard and I'm always interested in trying to figure out how many different ways I can interpret it. I've been doing it on the upright but this time I tried to challenge myself and do it on the fretless electric bass, in the tradition of Jaco Pastorius' version of 'America The Beautiful,' where he really had that Hendrix element happening."
Regarding the indelible hookup with his son Charnett Max on The Art Of Improvisation, Moffett says, "It's a real blast playing with him. He seems like he's gotten a lot from his grandfather, which I'm really enjoying. It's like playing with my old man again. The way his whole groove is and everything, it's just amazing how much it reminds me of my dad. There's a lot of telepathy happening there, for obvious reasons, and a deep spiritual connection between us. He keeps such a great legacy going from the musical family which I come from."
On using the three different basses throughout The Art Of Improvisation, Moffett says, "It really freed me up in a lot of ways. I don't think a lot of people realize it but I was actually a trumpet player before I was a bass player. I played trumpet for three or four years before I even picked up the bass so I guess that's where my piccolo bass appetite comes from. The upright is the foundation and my fretless electric bass is dead center from the sounds of the piccolo bass and the upright bass. And when I use wah-wah, I'm just trying to express a voice, like when Miles Davis put his mute in his trumpet. It's just an extension of expressing myself and I'm hearing more of that these days."
Born on June 10, 1967, Charnett's name is a contraction of his father's name (jazz drummer Charles Moffett) and jazz icon Ornette Coleman (whom Charles Moffett played with from 1965-1967). As a child prodigy he started playing bass in the Moffett Family Band at the age of seven and appears on their 1974 self-titled recording LRS Records. One year later he toured Japan with the Moffett Family Band. "Growing up in a musical family has been quite an experience," says Charnett. "My first teacher was my dad. He shared the gift of music with all of us kids. My first instrument was drums, then trumpet, and by age eight I found myself playing the bass with the Moffett Family Band on a tour to the Far East. And it's been an incredible journey since then."
Charnett attended Fiorello H. La Guardia H. S. for the Music and Arts in New York City and later studied at Mannes College of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. In 1983, he played on Branford Marsalis' debut as a leader, Scenes in the City, and the following year he joined the Wynton Marsalis quintet, appearing on 1985's acclaimed Black Codes (From the Underground). During the '80s, he also worked with Stanley Jordan, appearing on the innovative guitarist's 1985 Blue Note debut, Magic Touch, as well as with the Manhattan Jazz Quintet and legendary drummer Tony Williams, appearing on two of the late great drummer's Blue Note recordings, 1987's Civilization and 1988's Angel Street. In 1987, Moffett signed with Blue Note Records and debuted as a leader that year with Beauty Within, which featured his father Charles on drums, older brothers Codaryl on drums and Mondre on trumpet, Kenny Garrett on alto sax and Stanley Jordan on guitar. He followed that up with 1988's Net Man, featuring Michael Brecker, Al Foster, Kenny Drew Jr. and Jordan and in 1991 with Nettwork, his swan song for the label.
In 1993, Charnett recorded Rhythm & Blood for Sweet Basil's Apollon Records. A savvy mix of jazz and pop, it placed high on the music charts in Japan that year. Moffett would subsequently score artistic triumphs on the Evidence label with 1994's Planet Home (which featured his audacious, electronically enhanced rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" in tribute to Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock showstopper) and 1997's Still Life featuring keyboardist Rachel Z and drummer Cindy Blackman. In 1996, Moffett appeared on two simultaneous releases by Ornette Coleman's Sound Museum -- Hidden Man and Three Women. Another 1997 recording, Acoustic Trio for Teichiku Records, showcased Charnett's innovative acoustic bass playing. Three other '90s recordings for the Sweet Basil/Evidence label were done under the collective name of General Music Project and featured former Miles Davis alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, pianists Geri Allen and Cyrus Chestnut and father Charles Sr., who passed away before the group could tour together. Another Charnett recording from 1995, Moffett & Sons, is a collaboration father Charles that also includes appearances from pianist James Williams, saxophonists David Sanchez, Joshua Redman and Bill Pierce, and trumpeters Wallace Roney and Philip Harper. In 2001, Charnett released a potent trio recording with pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Lewis Nash, Mr. J.P (a tribute to Jaco Pastorius), for the now-defunct Sweet Basil label in Japan.
In 2003, Charnett played on McCoy Tyner's Telarc recording, Land of the Giants. He has also performed and recorded with such jazz greats as Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Frank Lowe, Ellis Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, Wallace Roney, Pharoah Sanders, Arturo Sandoval, Sonny Sharrock and David Sanborn. He has also performed on various movie soundtracks, including The Last Boy Scout, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Visit and was a featured soloist for The Score. In 2004, he released For The Love Of Peace on Piadrum Records and followed up in 2006 with Internet on that label. And now comes The Art Of Improvisation, his personal manifesto for the bass and one of his most eclectic outings to date. "I'm just trying to be true to form," says Charnett. "All you can do is be who you are anyway, so you might as well go ahead and play all of the music that you enjoy."