Jazz Guitarist/Composer

"Between the Lines" - Review
From: Jezebelmusic.com
By: Alicia Dreilinger

All too frequently, even the most accomplished and well-received of living jazz artists remain esoteric to the non-jazz aficionado public, save individuals such as Wynton Marsalis, who has emerged as a pop culture figure in his own right. Instead, Musak-styling murderers Kenny G. and Michael Bolton manage to overshadow and poison many a music listener’s perception of current jazz. Fortunately, the presence of New York Times-lauded guitarist Mike Moreno and his contemporaries, many of whom play on Between the Lines, may help rekindle the interest from the general public that jazz once commanded and still deserves. When I contacted Moreno recently regarding this recording, in addition to citing jazz musicians, he noted the influences of a multitude from different genres, including Maurice Ravel, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell (who, incidentally, at one juncture in her career heavily sourced jazz leitmotifs,) and Radiohead.

Perhaps this explains the variegated nature of the compositions. “Forward and Back” starts with virtuosic guitar playing percolating softly through a crackling texture, suggestive of reminiscence, then switches to the seamless fidelity associated with new experience, rendering it nearly hyperreal. “Gondola” shimmers with an ethereal wistfulness. “Road Song” has a lilting, somewhat dizzying quality, evocative of traveling. These and the rest of the songs blossom fully to the credit of the supporting musicians in addition to Moreno’s serious chops. The other bona fides include Marcus Strickland, Aaron Parks, John Ellis, Doug Weiss, Kendrick Scott, and Tyshawn Sorey, all excellent and independently renown. Pianist Aaron Parks especially stands out on “Still Here,” where the piano and the guitar meld together into a braided candle. That can also be said for the album as a whole: the tinkering sophistication of the melodies and the ample dexterity of the musicians produce the intertwined flame of true art. For any listener, regardless of level of jazz expertise, Between the Lines will sound great and engage.

"Between the Lines" - Review
June 2008
From: Downbeat
By: Phillip Booth

Mike Moreno's appealing tone on "World of The Marionettes," the floating ballad that opens the guitarist's debut as a leader is warm and full, a tad reminiscent of Pat Metheny. But the similarities end there, as Moreno employs his guitars to create his own brand of textured, mellow jazz, driven by a rhythm trio anchored by pianist Aaron Parks, plus saxophonist John Ellis and Marcus Strickland. The title track is a case in point, with guitar and tenor (Ellis) sounding the high, swerving melody and drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Doug Weiss answering with criss crossing counter lines.

These players are particularly attuned to one another's sensibilities, as displayed early on with an unhurried duo section at the start of the mid-tempo gem "Old Wise Tale." Moreno and Parks relax into each other's rhythmic figures and water color textures on the lovely duo "Still Here."

Between the Lines offers moments of crystalline beauty, too : Moreno's acoustic line flicker during the extended intro to "Gondola" and freeform Guitar/Piano interplay cues the waterfall patterns of "Forward and Back," lifted by Ellis' whirling soprano.

"Third Wish" - Review
By: Mark F. Turner

Third Wish is the sophomore release by guitarist Mike Moreno, yet it sounds more like the umpteenth recording of a veteran who's been in the trenches for many years—cool, calm, and collected, with nothing to prove but the music itself. It encapsulates Moreno's persona: fluid precision, lyricism, distinct tonality, and modernistic playing.

It's obvious why Moreno's exposure as a first choice player is growing. Whether laying down funky hip hop guitar on Open Reel Deck (Strick Muzik, 2007), reinterpreting classic rock music of Pink Floyd on The Jazz Side of The Moon (Chesky Records, 2008) or “super genre-specific” performances with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra, he's a player that brings individuality and a certain spark to the music.

A departure of sorts from the outstanding debut, Between The Lines (World Culture Music, 2007), this date on Criss Cross (noted for their robust straight-ahead releases) is a mixture of covers from the greats (Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Henderson) and three Moreno originals. Ultimately familiar, the standards are conveyed with empathy and originality by a smoking session-group that includes pianist Kevin Hayes, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Kendrick Scott; all consummate leaders/players, sounding as if they'd been touring together for months.

Moreno and the band's approach to the standards is quite enjoyable. The heart and soul of the classics are retained, but the group keeps them fresh by giving heady interpretational spins such as the upbeat version of Hancock's “I Have a Dream.” The intro chords and setup of the melody are imbued with a graceful movement that includes an incredible solo by Moreno marked by his undulating notes and aerial searching. Kevin Hayes follows with playing that would make Hancock smile and Weiss and Scott provide scintillating support.

The aesthetic textures—such as Moreno's acoustic guitar and Weiss' woody arco—fill songs like “Children of the Night,” helping to enhance the music. The burning notes of “Isotope,” the blissfulness of “Lush Life,” and the circuitous stream of Moreno's title track or "Street Lights," with some snazzy trading from Moreno and Hayes' Fender Rhodes, are new contemplations of an artist who sees and hears things in a slightly different way.

Equally as strong as Between The Lines and in some ways more revealing, Third Wish further establishes Mike Moreno as one of today's rising jazz guitarists.

Radio Interview From WKCR, July 26, 2007

"Between the Lines" - Review
By: Glenn Astarita

The list of modern jazz artists that Mike Moreno has recorded with would gobble up too much space here. In any event, this new release marks the New York City based guitarist’s debut outing as a leader. With medium-toned electric in hand, Moreno's craft is often immersed within the construction of budding themes via his fluidly articulated elegance, topped-off with raw firepower. And on "Old Wise," drummer Kendrick Scott mans the brisk swing vamp with his crisp, ride cymbal pulse and snappy accents. Here, Moreno and saxophonist Marcus Strickland engage in weaving unison choruses, followed by the leader’s animated solo foray. The guitarist's mode of attack is steeped within textural chord progressions, tinged with a sense of determination and sentiment accelerated by supercharged single note flurries and melodic overtones. Moreno is also quite savvy when employing volume control techniques as he directs the band through a panorama of shifting pulses and abbreviated shifts in momentum. He breaks out his acoustic guitar on a few works, where he conjures up blissful imagery. But the preponderance of this set is rooted in converging bop and swing lines amid an assortment of nooks and crannies. Ultimately, Moreno shines as a shrewd composer who is blessed with enviable chops and a wide-ranging jazz vernacular that bears a mark of distinction. A superfine exposition, it is.

"Between the Lines" - Review
By: Budd Kopman Guitarist Mike Moreno, originally from Houston, Texas and now in New York City for the last ten years, has created in Between the Lines a remarkable release that makes an immediate impact while also having much depth.

Jazz is less a musical language and more a musical attitude in which personal expression is paramount. Moreno has developed a style that is quite recognizable, based on what he composes and arranges, how he plays and what he plays. This achievement belies his youth and establishes him as a mature artist.

Although Between the Lines is a debut album, Moreno has appeared on many other projects including Jeremy Pelt's Identity (Max Jazz, 2005), John Ellis' By a Thread (Hyena, 2006) and Marcus Strickland's Open Reel Deck (Strick Muzik, 2007), which was recorded live.

Technical facility is one thing, and Moreno has it in spades; but that is expected at this point. He chooses a liquid tone with reverb that is very attractive, and when it is combined with the lines that he plays, a sensuous atmosphere that is inviting and seductive is created.

The things that make this recording so vibrant and impressive are the compositions themselves, which have long-limbed melodies that unfold very naturally with subtle harmony, while surprising at almost every turn. Meanwhile, the arrangements turn each track into a miniature dramatic story. These are not “tunes” in the common sense, nor are they soundscapes, but a combination of the two that carries the listener along on the crest of a wave.

The actual recording also helps create that effect, since the instruments are not so much separated as layered, placing the listener in the middle of the musical swirl. The main band consists of Moreno, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Kendrick Scott, with saxophonists John Ellis and Marcus Strickland guesting on some tracks and drummer Tyshawn Sorey appearing on the last track.

The band creates an organic sound that is very alive, and much of the credit must go to the superb playing of Parks. He is in constant touch with Moreno and finds seemingly endless ways to make his accompaniment mesh with what the guitarist is doing at any moment. When Parks get a chance to solo, the players reverse roles, and once again sound as one.

Although not quite as integrated an album, Between the Lines can easily be compared to guitarist Miles Okazaki's Mirror in its depth and intensity. Moreno is most definitely a player, composer and arranger of import and a musician to watch closely.

"Between the Lines" - Review
JAZZHOUSTON.COM, Jun 4th, 2007
By: Andrew Lienhard

"Between the Lines" is the highly anticipated debut CD from New York guitarist Mike Moreno. The self-produced, independently released recording is a stylish effort in every sense. The cover with its beguiling colors and dreamy textures allude to the musical contents within. Both are modern, intricate, often lush, and brimming with incredible artistry.

Moreno managed to put together this album in a brief two-day session shortly after completing a world-tour with Joshua Redman's Elastic Band. His virtuosity is more than evident, yet the album is not a showcase for such things. "Between the Lines" represents Moreno's exquisite conception as a composer and producer. That he can establish such a distinct musical voice this early in his career should bode well for his future.

The band selected for this project is a collective of like-minded, equally matched players all of whom are enjoying the parallel ascension of their own careers. Pianist Aaron Parks, the newest pianist on Blue Note's roster and now a member of Kurt Rosenwinkle's band, is the co-star of this record. His solos shimmer and his support behind the rest of the band is telepathic – this brilliance is most evident on "Road Song".

Kendrick Scott, the remarkable drummer on the session, followed a similar path as Moreno. They both attended The High School for the Performing Arts High School in Houston, Texas before heading East launching their now established sideman careers. Saxophonist John Ellis and Marcus Strickland share saxophone duties. The bassist is Doug Weiss. It's a supportive and intensely creative ensemble, well-picked for this music.

The CD consists of eight original compositions cultivated through years of live performances with his group in NYC. Despite the complex rhythmic and harmonic foundations of Moreno's compositions, the lasting impression comes from his haunting, often plaintive lyricism. It's a mood bolstered by the instrumentations, particularly the texture of saxophone/guitar doublings on melodies and overdubbed acoustic and electric guitar parts. The overall recording quality is outstanding too, creating the warmth of old vinyl.

The opening track "World of Marionettes" unravels as a cascading melody augmented by dense group interplay. It's precisely this quality of composition and arrangement that evokes artists such as Kurt Rosenwinkle and Mark Turner. But Moreno drifts more toward the romantic, a la Metheny, than the often cerebral musings of his counterparts. He also dabbles in production tricks with the opening of "Forward and Back" where he sucks all the bass EQ out of the mix to evoke the sound of distant radio. He proceeds with a track that features one of his best solos.

The beautiful composition "Gondola" gives Moreno an opportunity to showcase his exceptional acoustic guitar playing. In contrast, "Road Song" offers the closest thing to a straight-ahead feel and gives Kendrick Scott room to open up. Perhaps the most striking moment on the CD though is the duet with pianist Aaron Parks on "Still Here" thanks to the accomplished interplay and empathy of both players.

As you listen to these tracks, it becomes clear that Moreno is a very gifted musician with the even greater talent of putting forth a singular artistic statement; one I feel is miles ahead of most in his age group.

The Gig - Beyond Elasticity
July/August 2007
From: JazzTimes
By: Nate Chinen

Often in the past few years, I've paused in my assessment of some sharp-minded young band to note the playing of guitarist Mike Moreno. What caught my attention was his cool comportment and fluid technique, both aspects of an expansive yet well-defined musical personality. He had a sound and the makings of a style, and something else besides: the rare ability to dissolve into the bloodstream of an ensemble with total humility but not a shred of self-effacement. His was rarely the loudest or most insistent voice in the mix, but what he was saying came through clearly and made elegant sense.

There are many other guitarists out there pushing toward a modern ideal, but none with the precise coordinates that Mike Moreno has charted.

Perhaps you've had a similar experience with Moreno, who set up shop in New York precisely a decade ago. You noticed him on tour with Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, or backing the neo-gospel powerhouse Lizz Wright. Maybe you've heard him carving up "Suspicion." the most aggressively syncopated track on Identity, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's 2005 Maxjazz breakthrough. Or you landed on Moreno's MySpace page and heard samples from Between the Lines, his own accomplished and auspicious new debut.

Moreno hails from Houston, the wellspring of so much recent talent in jazz and R&B. Last year when I visited his alma mater, the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, jazz director Warren Sneed cited him as a success story, alongside drummer Kendrick Scott and a few others. Moreno matriculated at the New School in New York with the highest scholarship the institution had ever awarded a guitarist.

Jazz lore is full of lone-wolf theories, tales of preternaturally gifted individuals tearing onto a scene. Moreno's experience attests to the ascendancy of a more collective model, something like an open-door fraternity of ambition and taste. His cohort at the New-School included pianists Robert Glasper, a fellow HSPVA alum, and Frank LoCrasto, who graduated a few years later from Booker T. Washington, the equivalent magnet school in Dallas. He also fell in with saxophonist John Ellis, an adopted New Orleanian and finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

Moreno's sideman sessionography mainly involves this stylish and well-studied peer group. He appeared with Glasper on the 2000 debut by neo-soul crooner Bilal, briefly a New School colleague, and he and Ellis made a joint cameo on "Mood," the simmering title track of Glasper's pre-Blue Note debut from 2003. He contributed along with LoCrasto to Pelt's Identity. When LoCrasto released his strong debut last year—When You're There, also on Maxjazz—it was only natural that Moreno would be on it.

You could form a fairly three-dimensional picture of Moreno by evaluating these and other supporting roles on record. His love of atmospheric coloration shines not just on "Mood" but also throughout LoCrasto's album, which includes a handful of smartly chamberlike compositions. For a taste of his floating grace over irregular meters, try "First Step," which appears on Can't Wait for Perfect (Fresh Sound New Talent), by tenor saxophonist Bob Reynolds. Look to Metamorphosis (Kindred Rhythm), an album by tenor saxophonist and percussionist Yosvany Terry Cabrera, for some spiky assertiveness in a postmodern Afro-Cuban setting. Then consult Ellis' eminently listenable By a Thread (Hyena), which touches upon everything from loopy swing ("Umpty Eleven") to slinky funk ("Lonnie"), with guitar uplifting every track.

Two years ago in JT, guitarist Pat Metheny gave David R. Adler this appraisal of Moreno: "A really talented guy who impressed me beyond the notes, for his general feeling, and what he's going for." His final four words are key. There are many other guitarists out there pushing toward a modern ideal, but none with the precise coordinates that Moreno has charted. For what it's worth, he's less ethereal than Kurt Rosenwinkel and less astral than Ben Monder, though you could surely make a case for their influence. Listen to Moreno's solo on a live rendition of "Forward and Back" (the MP3 is available at mikemoreno.com), and you might be reminded of Rosenwinkel at first, if only for his spacious phrasing and luminous tone. But the evocation doesn't last because of the way Moreno shapes his improvisation. "What he's going for" is the distinguishing factor.

It should be no surprise that Moreno has earned the admiration of a growing contingent outside his circle. Or that he's been busy. One night this spring, he performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and then headed nine blocks south on Broadway to play a midnight show at the Iridium with alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw. The latter show began with a standard, Cole Porter's "I Love You." Moreno, taking the first solo, started with an elaboration on the melody and circled steadily outward, indulging his technique thoughtfully and fleetingly. Guitarist Mike Stern was in the house, having played an earlier set, and I cornered him for his thoughts. "He plays beautifully, man," Stern said. "He's so incredibly lyrical, and he's always reaching for something." (That last part sounds familiar.) Stern added that he had invited Moreno over to his house to play duets. "I told him I transcribed some of his stuff," he said, grinning.

The drummer at Iridium was Kendrick Scott, whose World Culture Music label launched earlier this year with The Source, Scott's debut as a leader. Moreno plays a prominent role on that album, but it's the label's second release, Between the Lines, that signals his arrival. Each of its eight tracks is a Moreno original, and together they attest to an intelligent yet easygoing progressivism. Which is not to deny a few flashes of influence. "Still Here," an acoustic duet with pianist Aaron Parks, calls to mind some of Metheny's work with Lyle Mays; the harmonic contours of "Old Wise Tale" suggest Wayne Shorter, as the title appears to acknowledge. Still, the identity that coalesces over the course of the album is Moreno's, and it conveys a remarkable sense of conviction. Clearly he knows that there's value not only in what he's reaching for, but also in the act itself.

"Between the Lines", Review
April 22, 2007
From: allaboutjazz.com
By: Mark F. Turner

Mike Moreno's stylized and progressive playing has made him the guitarist of choice for many rising musicians' recordings including trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's Identity (MaxJazz, 2005), saxophonist John Ellis' By A Thread (Hyena, 2006) and drummer Kendrick Scott's The Source (World Culture Music, 2007). Now he's at the helm with the impressive debut Between the Lines.

Enlisting help from a solid crew of young musicians including saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer Kendrick Scott; Moreno's eight compositions show a maturity and depth beyond his youthful appearance. The group interaction, with superlative written material, is interpreted into thoughtful and detailed pieces that show Moreno's developing style. Examples include the spiraling path of "World Of The Marionettes," where his electric guitar is liquid, smooth, inquisitive and free. Creative liberties are also exercised on the mid-western aura of "Forward And Back," which begins with a faint AM radio sound quality intro from the guitar and piano, and then turns into an intricate and well-composed work of modern music.

Moreno's acoustic playing is a pleasant surprise on "Gondola" and "Road Song," which also includes some fine soloing by pianist Aaron Parks. This is by no mean just a guitar recording but a well-conceived ensemble project, as witnessed on the piano/guitar duo "Still Here" and "Uncertainty," with its intense-to-calm changes featuring a distinct tenor sax solo from John Ellis and tingling drum work by Tyshawn Sorey.

It would be easy to compare Moreno to longtime influential guitarists like Pat Metheny, but this is music showing the growth of a young musician who has his own ideas and the means to fulfill them. Between the Lines stands on its own as a bonafide work of enjoyable music from an up-and-coming guitarist who is well worth checking out.

Guitarist Mike Moreno at the Jazz Gallery, Review
Jul 18th, 2003
From: jazzhouston.com
By: Andrew Lienhard

Mike Moreno is becoming a hot item on the New York jazz scene. His agile guitar playing has attracted the attention of major artists such as Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Greg Osby, and Kenny Garrett. In fact, by the end of last year the buzz on Mike had grown so strong that he received those once in a lifetime calls from Watts and Garrett on the same day. But Watts got to him first, snatching up one of the dates Garrett had set aside for rehearsals. He recalls "even that was hard to turn down, but it was still cool getting both calls on the same day". In the end everything worked out. Watts flew him to Boston; Garrett booked him for the saxophonist's annual New Year's gig at Sweet Rhythm.

Besides a busy gig schedule, Mike can be heard on several albums from up and coming players like trumpet sensation Jeremy Pelt, R&B vocalist Bilal, organist Jesse Chandler and fellow Houstonian, pianist Robert Glasper.

Jazz Gallery Show

Thursday's performance at the Jazz Gallery demonstrated that Moreno is at once a masterful composer, with a sense of sophistication that belies his age, and an extraordinary improviser. Perhaps these two qualities are related, though it is rare to see an artist excel at both. Despite the band's limited rehearsal time, the intricate and mesmerizing compositions were masterfully executed. Indeed, Mike and his seasoned band mates transcended the music's challenges allowing the audience to savor the fluid characteristics of his writing. The tune "Between The Lines", for example, would be a standout track on any album, as would his grooving "Road Song" (not to be confused with the Wes Montgomery standard).

At the same time, the level of playing was extraordinary. As Mike took command of the first solo, he set the standard for the evening. Devouring one chorus after another, his solos were both exciting and maturely crafted, not merely vehicles for bravado or technique. Moreno's phrasing is impeccable, his time flawless and his ideas utterly endless. These qualities were particularly apparent as he electrified the musician-heavy audience on Joe Henderson's classic "Isotope".

The rest of the band proved just as sensational. Pianist Aaron Goldberg, who has worked in both Joshua Redman's quartet (his classmate from Harvard) and drummer Al Foster's trio, scorched the room's Baldwin grand. Using a rich rhythmic palette to construct exciting solos, his interplay with drummer Rodney Green was so delightful, that had the rest of the band dropped out the music wouldn't have suffered a bit. Goldberg has several albums out as a leader, in addition to his sideman credits with Redman, Foster and Mark Turner.

Drummer Rodney Green has the most extensive resume of anyone in Mike's band, having toured and recorded with Diana Krall, Eric Reed, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Haden, Christrian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Greg Osby and many, many others. One only needs to hear him to understand why. Bassist Derek Nievergelt from Terence Blanchard's band was understated but grooving. Saxophonist Kris Bauman whose beautiful tone is reminiscent of Mark Turner, synced perfectly with Moreno on the complex melodies before launching into his own expansive solos.

Mike will be appearing later this month at the Jazz Gallery with John Ellis, Charlie Hunter's saxophonist and a Monk Competition finalist. He'll also be appearing this month at Sweet Rhythm (formerly Sweet Basil) with trumpeter and Mingus Big Band member Jeremey Pelt.

Keep your eyes open for all of these guys. They're no doubt going to be a big part of jazz's next chapter.

Select Quotes:

Moreno shines as a shrewd composer who is blessed with enviable chops and a wide-ranging jazz vernacular that bears a mark of distinction.
-Glenn Astarita-Jazzreview.com

Guitarist Mike Moreno shines. His liquid timbre pooling into solos that are conversational but as disciplined as poetry. Michael J. West
-Jazztimes Nov. 2007

There are many other guitarists out there pushing towards a modern ideal, but none with the precise coordinates that Mike Moreno has charted.
--Nate Chinen, "The Gig" JazzTimes Magazine

Mike Moreno's appealing tone, cascading lines and inherent sense of lyricism mark him as one of the the most outstanding guitarists since Kurt Rosenwinkel.
-Bill Milkowski, JazzTimes Magazine

Mike Moreno is one of the many stellar talents providing instrumental genius to the professional ranks of jazz.
A versatile and increasingly prominent guitarist...
-The New York Times

A Guitarist of commanding technique and almost architectural expression.
- Village Voice

One of the top Six Stingers-in Jazz today... His Fluid combination of melody, chromaticism, and ferocious chops was spellbinding
-Nashville Scene

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