Jemeel Moondoc: Muntu Recordings

John Sharpe By

Sign in to view read count
Jemeel Moondoc
Muntu Recordings
NoBusiness Records

Lithuanian based NoBusiness records has put together a wonderful retrospective on under celebrated saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and his pioneering ensemble Muntu, sumptuously packaged in a three-audio disc plus booklet box set. It's a bulletin from another era, the late 1970s, a fertile period in free jazz history which has been sparsely documented. The set goes some way to redressing that imbalance, with the 114 page booklet containing erudite essays by Ed Hazell on loft jazz and Muntu, a commentary by Moondoc himself, a gazetteer of New York City lofts, and a Muntu sessionography, copiously illustrated with period black and white photographs.

Included are Muntu's first two releases and a third set issued here for the first time. Muntu was an important band. It manifested some of the early activity of free jazz maestro, organizer and bassist William Parker, and his first recorded collaboration with subsequent longtime associate trumpeter Roy Campbell. Furthermore, Muntu also augured the distinguished improvising cooperative Other Dimensions In Music, with identical personnel except for the reed chair. In a bittersweet acknowledgement of the band's import, Muntu's time was up when Moondoc lost his rhythm section of Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr to the prestige (and work) of pianist Cecil Taylor, after more than eight years of joint endeavor.

Originally released on the reedman's own label, Muntu's music was little heard in its heyday, although original copies now change hands for ridiculous amounts. At last the music is more widely available, carefully transferred from LP. These guys know what they are doing as the majority of NoBusiness issues are on vinyl, so only occasional clicks and pops betray the source material.

Muntu's 1977 debut, First Feeding (Muntu), was a well-recorded studio date. Three pieces in a 39 minute program pass in a collective swirl of dense ensembles, thickened by Mark Hennen's piano. Together with the cellular keyboard motifs, the simultaneous horn lines of the leader and trumpeter Arthur Williams bear the hallmark of Cecil Taylor's groups at the time (unsurprising given the recent participation of Moondoc et al in Taylor's ensembles at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio), particularly in the discursively voiced elegiac themes with their deliciously ragged feel.

Moondoc's characteristic blues-drenched, astringent tone was already in place, manifest through soulful alto saxophone outpourings. Williams was talented but troubled and woefully underrepresented on disc. A distinctive voice with a broad tone, he corrals whispers, rasps and places heraldic figures into a heady brew. His solo on "Theme For Milford" astonishes with a series of abrasive middle register growls. Notwithstanding Moondoc's desire to forge his own sound, this edition of Muntu touched on terrain inspired by Taylor which still remains underexplored.

Captured in 1979 shortly after a European tour, Evening of the Blue Men (Muntu) showcases a new and more open lineup. Williams has been replaced by Campbell and Hennen's piano has gone. Consisting of just two side long pieces totaling some 40 minutes, the live recording from NYC's St Marks Church allows ample space to stretch out. Without piano, Moondoc's tone sounds lighter and airier, his Ornette Coleman influence more to the fore. Campbell's fluent, slurred legato blends pleasingly with the reedman's plangent holler. Parker's prodigious powers of levitation shine through the echoey ambience, entrained with Bakr as a single cohesive unit and confirming Taylor's wisdom in head hunting them as a pair. "Theme For Diane" is an early entry in an illustrious line of Moondoc dirges, though the repeated buggin's-turn solo roster might grate with some listeners.

Previously unreleased, Live At Ali's Alley is actually Muntu's earliest recording, predating First Feeding by two years. Reduced to a trio, most likely due to trumpeter Williams problems and lack of a piano, the group loses some of its impact. It's a demanding listen, consisting of a 36 minute version of "Theme For Milford." While the head is barely stated, elements surface throughout Moondoc's lengthy improvisation as he triangulates his path. He starts sprightly and Coleman-ish, but struggles to maintain that level over 20 minutes and the focus has switched to the rhythm section well before he pauses for a duet of rippling strummed bass and accented percussion, which is more about texture and propulsion than melody. A loose retelling of the theme closes out the set. From the applause it sounds as if there were about four people present. Lucky them.

This lovingly presented set is both historic document and vital music.

Tracks: CD1: First Feeding; Flight (From The Yellow Dog); Theme For Milford (Mr. Body & Soul). CD2: The Evening of the Blue Men Part 3 (Double Expo); Theme For Diane. CD3: Theme For Milford (Mr. Body & Soul).

Personnel: Jemeel Moondoc: alto saxophone; Arthur Williams: trumpet (CD1); Mark Hennen: piano (CD1); Roy Campbell: trumpet (CD2); William Parker: bass; Rashid Bakr: drums.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde

Related Video


More Articles

Read Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows Extended Analysis Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows
by John Kelman
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House Extended Analysis Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House
by John Kelman
Published: March 4, 2017
Read Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word Extended Analysis Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word
by Doug Collette
Published: March 3, 2017
Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read "Thomas Stronen: Time Is A Blind Guide" Extended Analysis Thomas Stronen: Time Is A Blind Guide
by John Kelman
Published: March 27, 2016
Read "Nat Birchall: Creation" Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker" Extended Analysis Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent" Extended Analysis Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se...
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 10, 2016
Read "Steve Khan: Eyewitness Trilogy" Extended Analysis Steve Khan: Eyewitness Trilogy
by John Kelman
Published: April 17, 2016
Read "Chuck Hammer: Blind On Blind" Extended Analysis Chuck Hammer: Blind On Blind
by Peter Jurew
Published: September 29, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!