Monday, October 03, 2005

Avant-garde messengers

That hard bop iconoclast Art Blakey might turn over in his grave if he heard me say it, but Grachan Moncur III's recent CD "Exploration" sounds to me like Jazz Messengers meets Archie Shepp, or maybe what the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" nonet might have sounded like if it had come along a decade later.

The disk puts the trombonist, pretty much unrecorded the last 20 years, in a big-hitter nonet playing eight of his compositions as sympathetically rearranged by conductor Mark Masters. Among the other players: Gary Smulyan, one of my favorite baritone saxophonists, Gary Bartz on alto, and tenorist Billy Harper, who should get a lot wider recognition than he does. These guys perform like a group that's been working together for years rather than a pickup band. All of it's interesting, but I especially liked "Monk in Wonderland" and "Frankenstein." They tip the scales all the way to the avant-garde on the freely improvised "Excursion." On the Capri label via the American Jazz Institute, it's an intellectually stimulating CD I can recommend enthusiastically.

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