Grachan Moncur III

Mosaic Select: Grachan Moncur III

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Mosaic Records -- that venerable jazz and blues collector's label that issues completely necessary packages by legendary, if sometimes obscure, artists in limited editions on both LP and CD -- is a name synonymous with the finest quality in sound, annotation, and packaging, and they are branching out. Mosaic Select is a side label dedicated to bringing to light the work of musicians whose role in the development of jazz was seminal but whose catalog was small, or whose work was neglected or otherwise overlooked. These editions, in two or three CD sets, just like their other boxes, are numbered and limited. The music on this collection features both of trombonist and composer Grachan Moncur's Blue Note LPs as well as his four historic collaborations with Jackie McLean, the albums One Step Beyond, Destination Out, Hipnosis, and 'Bout Soul. Virtually everything here has already been released on LP and CD, so there are no unreleased or alternate takes we haven't heard before. That said, it is wonderful to have all of the material from this period in one place. It was certainly one of the most fertile in McLean's history, and Moncur's compositions and arrangements are one of main reasons for this. The collaboration between the two men is symbiotic. McLean was looking to branch out his sound when Moncur brought Bobby Hutcherson and bassist Eddie Khan into the band that was to record the seminal One Step Beyond. (Tony Williams had already been gigging with McLean as part of the band for the Living Theater production of Jack Gelber's play The Connection.) There are only four tunes on One Step Beyond, two by Moncur and two by McLean. Moncur's "Frankenstein" is one of the most inventive and haunting jazz waltzes ever composed. As he and McLean trade solos off the opening lines, Hutcherson moves into the role of transposer, moving the key signatures from A-flat minor to A-minor on alternating measures, punching in the changes to suggest directions in melodic hard bop improvisation. The feel on Destination Out is unlike anything else heard in the music during that time, with the possible exception of Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch. This is a kind of chamber jazz modeled on minor keys and Asian musical phrasing -- one can hear that Moncur had been listening to gagaku, the esoteric court music from Japan. He composed three of the album's four tunes, and each of them swings with a spare beauty that was to be his trademark, yet always looked forward to the breakdown of melodic improvisation into strange elliptical fragments that could be torn down and reassembled seemingly randomly to suit a key change, a different time signature, or an intervallic shift in harmony. Moncur's own recordings -- especially Evolution, which added Lee Morgan and Bob Cranshaw -- were even further on the fringe than McLean's. But Moncur's own playing is so rooted in the notion of lyric and song that it was impossible to dismiss them as merely avant-garde recordings. Some Other Stuff included Wayne Shorter, Cecil McBee, and Herbie Hancock, and excludes McLean. It is the most overlooked item in his catalog and is a stunner. Note the composition "Gnostic" for its modal expansions and unique solo structures. Finally, Moncur reappears on two late-'60s recordings of McLean's: the decidedly angular Hipnosis and the completely out 'Bout Soul, which featured drummer Rashied Ali, trumpeter Woody Shaw, and bassist Scotty Holt. Nonetheless, despite McLean's wailing, Moncur keeps it lean and lyrical, holding both other players in check by swinging out of a place where there seems to be no room to swing. That album is not in its entirety here, because Moncur only played on half. Nonetheless, for Moncur enthusiasts this is essential to have all the recordings as well as liners in one place; for those looking through McLean's catalog, this is a way to get these recordings for a fine price.

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