“I don’t have no trouble livin’, it’s just dying that bothers me”
Well, old man Mose is dead. The guy had a 60-year career, and I was fortunate enough to see him a couple times in the 1990s. This is the first recently-departed artist I’ve taken on, but truthfully it occurred to me quite recently that I was overdue for re-spinning The Word From Mose (1964), which I assumed was my favorite. I went on a bit of a kick with all the Atlantic trio albums—he occasionally brought in horns and an electric organ, but the piano-bass-drums lineup gave him the most room to do his thing, and rightly it’s the setting most people associate with him. The trio records are all kinda the same but I was most surprised by Wild Man on the Loose, the one with the least familiar song titles. Here we go… “Look out, Stand back!”
The title track is not to be confused with “Wild Man” from a couple years before, but both are uptempo and untamed, and invoke all manner of jungle cats as metaphors. Now, looking at the cover you’d guess Mose was a vaguely eccentric uncle at best, but who am I to tell a man his wildness, especially if he already knows he’s “gonna wake up feeling bad tomorrow.” Many of his tunes conclude with a slow shuffle, all the more reason why this rare hard ending is so effective. Mose quickly earned the reputation for his great sardonic wit, and he had a run of records in this era that were nothing but pithy vocal numbers, which can get a bit fatiguing (just last month Ace released a 24-song CD with only these) but this album rights the balance with four instrumentals. “Power House” is just as it sounds, a rocker with Mose running the keys with almost as much propulsion as the Raymond Scott tune of the same name. Mose’s trios always changed, but the great Paul Motian came and went as schedules allowed and may have been his best drummer. His presence alone on the gentle “Never More” would be enough to evoke the Bill Evans trio, but really it’s the uncharacteristically subdued playing of Mose that does it. The unaccompanied piano that opens “Night Watch” approaches the delicate lyricism of Evans, and not what you’d expect from the man who showed garage rock bands how to play “I’m Not Talking,” “Parchman Farm,” and “Young Man Blues.” Motian’s rollicking brushwork propels “You Can Count On Me To Do My Part” and he and one-timer bassist Earl May get some soloing space on the longer pieces. “That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch” sounds like it could have been written by Mose, as he wryly warns of wayward women, but it’s a 40s jump blues by Buddy Johnson originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald. As for the originals, if “What’s With You” isn’t as memorable as “Your Mind Is On Vacation” the laconic delivery sells it just as much as clever wordplay. The instrumental closer “War Horse” is strictly The Mose and Motian Show (though May ably keeps up with their pyrotechnics) with the two trading breakneck solo bars by the end.
The album’s bit of a sleeper with no outsized classics, but all the more consistent and pleasurable for being so relaxed and modest, yet with the full breadth of his powers on display. I don’t imagine Mose was a religious man with any use for heaven (and could a wild man who boasted of “dancing with Satan’s women” get there anyway?) but I hope he greeted the unknown peacefully, thinking “Hello There, Universe…”.