Grachan Moncur III Octet: Exploration (2004)
"Frankenstein" seems an odd name for a jazz tune, but then why not? The song titleand the song itselfcaptures the mood of Grachan Moncur III's Exploration. It's an arrangement that features an assertiveto the point of brashness, perhapsensemble interplay of a seven horns backed by bass and drums, sans piano or guitar. Two trombones, along with a French horn and baritone sax, ensure the darker tone predominance withon this particular tunea stinging, free-ranging alto sax solo by Gary Bartz, followed by Moncur's contained and very centered solo turn on his horn.
Grachan Moncur III's hornfor those of you who didn't catch him on Jackie McLean's Destination Out or One Step Beyond, or on any of his own bygone Blue Note setsis the trombone. His is a distinctive voice: tight, terse, incisive (you won't hear a wasted note from him), and within the roiling arrangements he seems to slide into an eye-of-the-storm mode, like a measured voice of reason in the center of slightly neurotic gales.
Mark Masters of the American Jazz Institute arranged these tunes and conducts the octetactually a nonet when you count Moncur. He proves himself yet againas he did on One Day With Lee (Lee Konitz) and The Clifford Brown Project, both on Capri Recordsa masterful enabler/interpreter. He captures the essence of the musicians in the middle of his projects, with, in this case, arrangements full of coiled intensity and sharp angles and gleaming edges, reminiscent of some of the Melba Liston charts done for Randy Weston's larger ensemble discs.
Moncur's songs are quirky in a Monk-ish sense, counterpointing harmony versus discord, restraint versus freedom, and the set is packed with searing solos alongside very measured and deliberate turns. Exploration makes up a consistently surprising set of sounds. I'll pick "Love and Hate" as a highlight, but it's probably just my precarious preference for a ballad todayany tune here on any given day could fill that bill. But the tune in question has a marvelously tight and taciturn Moncur solo that sneaks in and out some clean mainstream harmony, followed by Billy Harpertenor saxsoaring on his horn.
Grachan Moncur III has been out of the limelight for a couple of decades. Exploration is a fine and fitting welcome back.
Track Listing: Exploration, Monk in Wonderland, Love and hate, New Africa, When?, Frankenstein, Excursion, Sonny's Back,
Personnel: Tim Hagans--trumpet; John Clark--French Horn;m Dave Woodley--trombone; Gary Bartz--alto saxophone; Billy Harper--tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan--baritone saxophone; Ray Drummond--bass; Andrew Cyrille--drums; Grachan Moncur--trombone