Jemeel Moondoc Vtet: Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys
Maybe I am wrong about this, but it seems to me that in recent years an increasingly large number of horn players -including the likes of Nick Bisesi, Rob Blakeslee, and Joe McPhee- have begun to make music similar to that found on the early recordings of Ornette Coleman. Given that over the past 40 or so years Coleman's advances in the realm freedom have been far more influential than his aesthetic conceptions, this is a welcome development and far from a reactionary retreat.
Jemeel Moondoc is one player who has long been mining this area. Since arriving in the Big Apple in 1972, the saxophonist has created music that was far less brutal and brutal than the sounds coming from more prominent players in both Europe and the States. Unfortunately the economics of the improvised prevented him from doing as much recording as he probably should have for much of his career. In recent years, however, the Massachusetts based Eremite label has been doing its best to record and release more of Moondoc's projects with one of the latest being the superb Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys.
Recorded on May 25 at last year's Visions Festival, this disc runs just shy of 47 and a half minutes. It is both a strength and weakness of Moondoc's playing here (and, to a lesser extent, in general) that it sounds so much like Coleman circa The Shape of Jazz to Come. This is, no doubt, a great well to draw upon but at the same time it tends to make his music sound a bit derivative and caged in by parameters that are now over 40 years old. Occasionally, on Revolt, Moondoc manages to throw in a bit of the bounce of Eric Dolphy or the soul of Jackie McLean. It is hard to fault anybody for playing in these styles so well but it would have been nice if there had been a bit more expansion of his sound which, as it is, only explores different paths for a few brief moments on the title cut. Drummer Codaryl Moffett -perhaps better known as Cody, this is the son of Charles Moffett, another drummer, who played with Coleman and Dolphy amongst others - and bassist John Voigt accompany Moondoc on this disc. Both are veterans of previous groups with the saxophonist and that experience shines though on each cut with solid support. When solos come their way, the two shine and the mournful near duet that Moffett does with Moondoc at the end "you let me into your life" is probably my favorite part of this recording.
Ed Hazell raves about trumpeter Nathan Breedlove in the notes and while there is certainly nothing wrong with his playing, from my vantage point he is the least interesting member of the quintet and, at his best, adds nice color to what the other four are doing. Far more exciting is the vibraphone work of Khan Jamal. The vibraphone, like its close associates the bells and marimba, has fallen out of popularity in jazz since the late 1950s or early 1960s and, for good reason, never gained any sort of foothold with the avant-garde. My own experiments with the instrument -like most of my attempts at creating music- never moved beyond high school concert band and yet even that brief experience was enough to convince that it was not the means to great personal expression. It remains an instrument cold to much of the sounds reflecting the bits of humanity that are not suitable for polite company. Consequently, the use of the instrument in avant settings requires care planning and relatively smooth accompaniment. Jamal moves with ease in and around -some of most exciting moments comes when he is playing out of tempo or out of synch with the other musicians- the music never letting go of a warm and solid sound.
The delightful characteristic or aesthetic found in this music is not to be underestimated. When I saw Moondoc perform live last November, I was amazed at how he played hunched down, eyes closed, and just gently walked two steps forward and then two steps back while swinging to the music. At any given point, I expected him to belch out some nasty riff and then look up and smile but that never happened. He was disciplined and focused within the music and was there to allow anyone within listening distance to enjoy it. It is easy to imagine him doing the same thing as this music plays.
The nameless black lawn jockey -for which this disc is named from- is seen less and less in this modern era with it now most likely to be found in rural -and largely white- areas. Somewhere along the line -some would say the 1960s- they became "politically correct" and only the "unlearned" are likely to now put them out. The argument was that it was no more than an image of subservience but at one time these jockeys joined with quilts and cooling pies to guide fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad. It is thus only one fanciful step before thinking that -perhaps due to the machismo, perhaps not- these jockeys might now secretly desire to reclaim their status as symbol of freedom by striking down some brutal cop or racist politician. But they were passive and peaceful guides then and, as Moondoc and friends show, they remain that today. They joyfully dance without shame because they know that they are Manrays and Mantans. They don't feel the need to scream and shout because they know that the spirit of freedom resides in all jazz worth of that designation. That is the Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockey.
Track Listing: moon mode; you let me into your life; revolt of the negro lawn jockeys; encore.
Personnel: Jemeel Moondoc - alto saxophone; Nathan Breedlove - trumpet; Khan Jamal - vibraphone; Codaryl Moffett - drums; John Voigt - bass.