Grachan Moncur III Octet: Exploration (2005)
It is a crying shame that some of the best jazz musicians have to languish in obscurity. There are many reasons, but a review is not necessarily the place to go into them. Suffice to say that it is a moment worth cherishing when a stalwart comes in from out of the beyond to make his presence felt.
Grachan Moncur III was a forward thinker who made some of the most powerful music of the sixties with compatriots like Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Roscoe Mitchell and Dave Burrell. That trend continued into the next decade with Perry Robinson and Leroy Jenkins. Now, thirty years later, he is back leading an octet, thanks to Mark Masters, who contacted Moncur, conceived the project, and then went on to arrange and conduct the music.
Masters' vision does not eclipse the sinew and the grace Moncur invests in his music. Credit the musicians as the affirming force which gives the written and the free a new vision. The selections are well balanced and offer a comprehensive look into the skill of Moncur as composer. "Monk in Wonderland" exhilarates, the rich harmonic pulse probed first by Gary Smulyan on baritone sax and then by Gary Bartz on the alto, both digging in and luxuriating in a cornucopia of invention. The four-part suite "New Africa" offers an interesting study in contrast. The music passes through diverse moods and tempos that nevertheless flow seamlessly.
The horns glisten and shimmer for "Queen Tamam," the sheen edged by the tenor of Billy Harper. From there it opens up to usher in a percussive beat, a hard bopping tenor, a lick of the blues, some free propulsion, all the segments cleaving into a tantalizing whole. The tumble and spin of a free spirited "Excursion" is an unmitigated delightno holds barred, no definitions set, just a vision at the end of the rambunctiousness.
This is a welcome return for Moncur. Hopefully, he will be making more music. We have waited all too long.
Track Listing: Exploration; Monk in Wonderland; Love and Hate; New Africa: a) Queen Tamam, b) New Africa, c) Black Call, d) Ethiopian Market; When?; Frankenstein; Excursion; Sonny's Back!
Personnel: Tim Hagans--trumpet; John Clark--French horn; Dave Woodley--trombone; Gary Bartz--alto saxophone; Billy Harper--tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan--baritone saxophone; Ray Drummond--bass; Andrew Cyrille--drums; Grachan Moncur III--trombone