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Grachan Moncur III Exploration Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

Bristling with intelligence, good humour and swing, Moncur's music stands the test of...

Peter Marsh 2005

Trombonist and composer Moncur is probably best known as the co-architect of classic Jackie Mclean sessions such as Destination Out and One Step Beyond, after a stint with Art Farmer and Benny Golson. After two brilliant albums for Blue Note in the early 60s, he joined forces with New Thing players like Archie Shepp and Beaver Harris on a string of dates for the BYG and JCOA labels. Despite occasional appearances with Frank Lowe and Cassandra Wilson in the 80s' Moncur has mainly concentrated on teaching and trying to scrape himself a living.

This set was the brainchild of arranger Mark Masters, who's transcribed a set of Moncur tunes (including the first he ever wrote) for a pianoless nonet. It's an impressive line-up that features tenorist Billy Harper (another under-recorded talent), Gary Bartz on alto and trumpeter Tim Hagans among the horns, plus the excellent rhythm section of Ray Drummond and Andrew Cyrille. Masters' empathy with Moncur's breezy, bluesy writing is obvious, and the use of French Horn (John Clark, naturally) and baritone (Gary Smulyan) allows for vibrant, broad strokes of colour. Occasional Monk-ish twists or boppish ensemble lines alternate with pushy riffing or graceful parallel harmonies, all powered by Cyrille and Drummond's emphatic punch.

This band isn't short of decent soloists, and it's a joy to hear Harper's joyful mix of R&B honkin' and Coltrane-ish ecstacies again. He's particularly effective on "Love and Hate", the set's only ballad, which features a lovely, aching melody. Bartz (once touted as Mclean's successor) is on good form too; his entry on "Frankenstein" is startling, and he offers inquisitive, intelligent solos whenever featured. The same goes for Hagans, whose pin-sharp bebop runs thrive in such company. But what of the leader? The glories of Moncur's 60's output saw him venerated (along with Roswell Rudd) as the most vital trombonist in the emergent avant garde. Even then, Moncur was principally a melodic player inspired by J. J. Johnson and steeped in bop language, and that influence still shines through. Economical, funky and lyrical all at once, Moncur doesn't waste a note throughout.

All in all, this is a fine record. Bristling with intelligence, good humour and swing, Moncur's music stands the test of time; something like "Monk in Wonderland" should be a standard by now. Nice to see him back...

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