All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review


Grachan Moncur III: Exploration


Sign in to view read count
For as much as the post-Ornette lineage of jazz and improvised music has engendered instrumental freedom both sonically and rhythmically, this language has also given a wealthy palette to the composer. With the work of figures like Andrew Hill remaining in the spotlight and Grachan Moncur III's recent return from a lengthy hiatus, it is worth re-examining the idiomatic missing link that Moncur's work offers.

As a soloist, Moncur is often seen as the "cooler alternative to Roswell Rudd's "hot tailgate in the lineage of vanguard trombonists of the '60s. Working in the groups of Jackie McLean and Archie Shepp, Moncur was able to apply the harmonies and liberated rhythms of the new music to a distinctly J.J. Johnson-Curtis Fuller-inspired tone and phrasing. Yet it his application of this measured approach to freedom to a compositional framework rooted in hard bop that has made Moncur's music so personal and lasting.

Conductor and producer Mark Masters of the American Jazz Institute, inspired by the wealth of valuable compositions, not to mention the dearth of Moncur recordings in the last two decades, brought the trombonist and seven colleagues together for Exploration, the leader's first album in 27 years. Moncur is joined here on seven of his compositions (and one group improvisation) by altoist Gary Bartz, tenor man Billy Harper (who played with Moncur on Lee Morgan's eponymously self-titled final studio date), drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist Ray Drummond, trumpeter Tim Hagans, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, John Clark on french horn and second trombonist Dave Woodley. Rather than starting chronologically with his hard bop-derived pieces or covering only his Blue Note period, Exploration offers a fairly even-handed view of the trombonist's oeuvre, including three from his fine 1969 recording New Africa (BYG-Actuel, on which Cyrille was featured). The title track to the present album was, in fact, the fiercest of four pieces on New Africa. Here, though certainly given to collective playing, the piece is manifested with a bit more of a traditional swing and the large-ensemble voicing brings out more of the written material than its initial rendering. The soul-jazz classic "When? , also from New Africa, features a particularly deep solo by Bartz in addition to Hagans' facile bravura. "Monk in Wonderland , originally recorded on Moncur's leader debut Evolution (Blue Note, 1963), proves itself once again as the rare missing link between the Monk and Wayne Shorter bags, a trajectory not often considered but given supreme validation here. "Frankenstein , also from the period with McLean, is given a tight arrangement and the addition of an ascending rhythmic element to the head. A maelstrom of emotions, dark and jagged rhythms giving way to a kaleidoscopic Bartz solo girded by elegant blocks of sound from brass and reeds. Cyrille's tasteful, loose pulse (combined with Drummond's anchor) gives the music a naturalness that such careful writing needs.

Though Moncur's music gives itself well to loose improvisational settings, wherein the soloists and group are highly liberated, the cohesive and tightly arranged nature of these readings brings out their inherent logic and structure in addition to their springboard-like qualities. It is both a testament to the pieces themselves and the empathy of this group (many of whom had not played together prior to rehearsals) that Exploration is as seamless as it is.

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

Title: Exploration | Year Released: 2005


comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

Related Articles

Read Fill Up Your Lungs and Bellow CD/LP/Track Review
Fill Up Your Lungs and Bellow
by Tyran Grillo
Published: March 22, 2018
Read Transatlantic CD/LP/Track Review
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: March 22, 2018
Read Criss Cross CD/LP/Track Review
Criss Cross
by Roger Farbey
Published: March 22, 2018
Read So Far CD/LP/Track Review
So Far
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 22, 2018
Read Wherever You're Starting From CD/LP/Track Review
Wherever You're Starting From
by Troy Dostert
Published: March 21, 2018
Read Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery CD/LP/Track Review
Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery
by Jerome Wilson
Published: March 21, 2018
Read "It's A Mystery" CD/LP/Track Review It's A Mystery
by Roger Farbey
Published: March 31, 2017
Read "Disappeared Behind the Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Disappeared Behind the Sun
by John Sharpe
Published: January 21, 2018
Read "Ran Do" CD/LP/Track Review Ran Do
by Mark Corroto
Published: March 5, 2018
Read "Sabiduria/Wisdom" CD/LP/Track Review Sabiduria/Wisdom
by James Nadal
Published: April 21, 2017
Read "On a Distant Shore" CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read "Kami Fusen" CD/LP/Track Review Kami Fusen
by John Sharpe
Published: October 12, 2017