Monday, October 9, 2017

Various Artists - 1968 - The New Wave in Jazz

Various Artists
The New Wave in Jazz

Original Edition:
01. John Coltrane Nature Boy 7:58
02. Albert Ayler Holy Ghost
03. Grachan Moncur III Blue Free
04. Archie Shepp Hambone 11:48
05. Charles Tolliver Brilliant Corners 9:50

CD Reissue
01. John Coltrane Nature Boy 7:58
02. Archie Shepp Hambone 11:48
03. Charles Tolliver Brilliant Corners 9:50
04. Charles Tolliver Plight 13:06
05. Grachan Moncur III Blue Free 6:48
06. Grachan Moncur III The Intellect 24:04

Alto Saxophone – James Spaulding (tracks: 3, 4)
Art Direction – Dan Serrano, Hollis King
Bass – Cecil McBee (tracks: 3 to 6)
Drums – Beaver Harris (tracks: 5, 6), Billy Higgins (tracks: 3, 4)
Trombone, Written-By – Grachan Moncur III (tracks: 5, 6)
Trumpet – Charles Tolliver (tracks: 3, 4)
Vibraphone [Vibes] – Bobby Hutcherson (tracks: 3 to 6)

Recorded live at The Village Gate, New York City on March 28, 1965. Originally released in 1968 on Impulse!
Tracks 4 & 6 are bonus tracks that did not appear on the original LP. Albert Ayler's 'Holy Ghost' was left off this reissue due to length.(But included in th download taken from Albert Ayler – Live In Greenwich Village - The Complete Impulse Recordings)

Liner Notes:
The New Wave in Jazz, by LeRoi Jones and Steve Young

The Black Arts Parade Toward the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School

125th Street, New York, 1965

On March 28, 1965, a concert benefiting the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School was held at New York’s Village Gate. Featuring John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra (he played but his music didn’t make the album) and Albert Ayler – artists described by Black Arts Music Coordinator Steve Young as “The Beautiful Warriors” and “magicians of the soul”– the performance was recorded and subsequently released on Impulse Records as The New Wave in Jazz.

This recording is significant for its brilliant “free jazz” performances, but also for Amiri Baraka’s (known as LeRoi Jones at the time) liner notes’ connection of music and politics.   It is a reminder of the historic, turbulent times in which this music was created. The Selma to Montgomery marches took place in March, 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated in February. The war in Vietnam was dramatically escalating. And, jazz music was continuing to evolve, the most obvious example being the December, 1964 recording of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which was released in February, a mere ten months after Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” rode the top of the Billboard charts.

In the midst of (and in reaction to) events like these came The Black Arts Movement. Founded in 1965 by Baraka, this movement called for, according to the African American History site, “the creation of poetry, novels, visual arts, and theater to reflect pride in black history and culture” with the goal to “awaken black consciousness and achieve liberation.” Baraka and other “cultural nationalists” viewed jazz “as a distinctly black art form that was more politically appealing than soul, gospel, rhythm and blues, and other genres of black music.”

In Baraka’s poetic, politically exuberant album liner notes (Young contributes an essay as well), read how he describes the introduction of these artists to those unfamiliar with them as “the touch stone of the new world,” and how their work “transcends any emotional state (human realization) the white man knows.” 

 I have been writing in many places about this new black music. I have made theories, sought histories, tried to explain. But the music itself is not about any of those things. What do our words have to do with flowers? A rose is not sweet because we explain it so. We cd say anything, and no rose wd answer.

     TRANE is now a scope of feeling. A more fixed traveler, whose wildest onslaughts are gorgeous artifacts not even deaf people shd miss.

     The sway of Nature Boy is lyric, when Trane sounds like what a search could sound like, we can understand that it is now not essentially a search for what to believe in. The Peace of the Cosmos is infinite motion.

     ALBERT AYLER thinks that everything is everything. All the peace. All the motion. That he is a vessel from which energy is issued, issues. He things (or maybe he doesn’t think) that he is not even here. Not even here enough to be talked about as Albert, except we are biological egos (we Think). Separate. Sometimes unfelling of each other (thing) but Music joins us. Feeling. Art. What ever produces a common correspondence for existence.

     Do you understand why this is a beautiful album?

     Trane is a mature swan whose wing span was a whole new world. But he also showed us how to murder the popular song. To do away w/ weak Western forms. He is a beautiful philosopher. You would say to him, listening to his own projection of mysticism, “That’s the way it was told to me.”

     Albert Ayler has heard Trane and Ornette Coleman and has still taken the music another way. People should be referred to Spirits, Bells, Spiritual Unity, My Name is Albert Ayler.

     Albert Ayler is a master of staggering dimension, now, and it disturbs me to think that it might take a long time for a lot of people to find it out. (Except they knew it all the time, like that other shit you can’t explain.)

     Trane is oriental (Eastern) on Nature Boy. A peace idiom, and time, placement of himself. When he speaks of God, you realize it is an Eastern God. Allah, perhaps.

     Albert Ayler is the atomic age. Sun-Ra, who was supposed to be heard on this album, but was not because of the missionary’s vagaries, is the Space Age. These two ages are co-existent, but all are. Trane the age of bright (mystical) understanding. Archie Shepp, the age of cities, an urbane traveler with good senses (heart, ear).

     This album will be for many people their initial hearing of most of these musicians. It shd be, for such ears, the touch stone of the new world. There is so much here.

     But the album is also heavy evidence that something is really happening. Now. Has been happening, though generally ignored and/or reviled by middlebrow critics (usually white) who have no understanding of the emotional context this music comes to life in.

     This is some of the music of contemporary black culture. The people who make this music are intellectuals or mystics or both. The black rhythm energy blues feeling (sensibility) is projected into the area of reflection, intentionally. As Expression…where each term is (equally) co-respondent.

     Projection over sustained periods (more time given, and time proposes a history for expression, hence it becomes reflective projection.

     Arbitrariness of Form (variety in nature)

     Intention of performance as a Learning experience

     These are categories which make reflection separate from expression; as Pure Expression and Pure Reflection (if such categories are more than theoretically existent. Expression does not set out to instruct (but it does anyway…if the objects of this mind-energy are so placed that they do receive). Reflection intends to change, is a formal learning situation. But getting hit in the head with a stick can do you as much good as meditating.

     In order for the non-white world to assume control, it must transcend the technology that has enslaved it. But the expression and instinctive (natural) reflection that characterizes black art and culture, listen to these players, transcends any emotional slate (human realization) the white man knows. I sd elsewhere, “Feeling Predicts Intelligence”.

     That is the spirit, the World Explanation, available in Black Lives, Culture, Art, speaks of a world more beautiful than the white man knows.

     All that is to make clear what we are speaking of. And that the music you hear (?) is an invention of Black Lives. (No matter the alien “harmonies” of Ayler’s cellist presents…a kind of intrepid “Classicism” that wants to represent Europe as “hip”).

     Grachan Moncur represents, along with Chas. Tolliver’s group, the cool aspect of the new generation. The post-milesian cool. The vibist, Bobby Hutcherson makes this stance thoughtful and challenging, as does, say, a drummer like Tony Williams or bassist Cecil McBee, who can stretch out even further.

     These musicians change what is given and hopefully understood. What the normal feeling of adventure is. You thing hard-bop to cool soft bop. But there is a persistent will to be original that sheds these labels effortlessly. Some of the musicians in the Tolliver/Moncur groups have played together many times on those hip Blue-Note records with Jackie McLean or Andrew Hill or Wayne Shorter, &c. These are men (Jackie, the perennial strongman) who show you the music is changing before yr very ears.

     These, and the others I mentioned before, names names, to conjure with, no one shd forget. Ok, speak of them as personalities if you want to. Sonny Murray is a ghost, listen to him thrash and moan with Holy Ghost. Listen to Louis Worrell, Charles Tyler, Don Ayler, closely because they are newer and might be telling you something you never bargained for. Listen to Trane, Ornette, Sun-Ra, Milford Graves, Tchikai, Brown. Listen to everybody beautiful. You on this record poets of The Black Nation.

     New Black Music is this: Find the self, then kill it.


     Director, The Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School


     It’s not about notes anymore. It’s about feelings!


      It is through the Black Man’s Music that the record of his Spiritual strivings are recorded for, from the time he was the first introduced into this country as a slave he was allowed little more Freedom than the freedom of his Music. Into his Music he poured all the energy that was elsewhere blocked, that elsewhere found no outlet through which his Spirit could express itself. But his Music was about more than that. It was about those unconscious cultural remnants he brought with him from the East, about the way he lived in the West, about where his Mind and Spirit wanted to be, where they had been and where they were going. As LeRoi Jones has written, the social and historical record of where he was at any given moment during his life in America (in terms of his feeling, his conscious and unconscious social and cultural allegiances) can be found in his Music; Blues, R&B, Gospel, Jazz.

     The creators of the New Music have reached deep into their psyches, deep into their cultural origins to find a language of sound that conveys this sense of the world as feeling, as knowledge found through a logic of the emotions. From the earthy chants an calls of John Coltrane, the cry of Archie Shepp, the subtle melodies of Grachan Moncur and Charles Tolliver, to the satiric and frenzied with chasing of Albert Ayler comes an apocalyptic message from the heart of the world. A sense of someone or something walking around in the back room, waiting, for us, for you, for the rise and fall of civilizations. It is not too much to expect that these musicians as artists are also priests and prophets of things to come.

     This recording presents a selection of some of the more significant voices in the New Music. Stylistically the approach of these musicians may differ yet they all seem to converge on that mystical hub around which the New Music revolves. Developmentally it provides a brief survey of the New Music from the more tonal chord structured music of John Coltrane to the “Free” Playing of Albert Ayler. The Music itself is taken from a benefit concert presented at the Village Gate in March 1965 by The Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in co-operation with avant-garde musicians, Impulse Records and Art D’Lugoff owner of the Gate. The Black Arts, situated in Harlem, is a school and theatre designed as a place where the most visionary talents of black culture may find expression and where the community and especially the younger generation may come to learn and develop their own creative gifts under the instruction of accomplished artists.

     Here then is the music of a new breed of musicians. We might call them “The Beautiful Warriors” or witch doctors and ju ju men…astroscientists, and magicians of the soul. When they play they perform an exorcism on the soul, the mind. If you’re not ready for the lands of Dada-Surreal a la Harlem, South Philly and dark Georgia nights after sundown, night-time Mau Mau attacks, shadowy figures out of flying saucers and music of the spheres, you might not survive the experience of listening to John Coltrane, Archie Shepp or Albert Ayler. These men are dangerous and someday they may murder, send the weaker hearts and corrupt consciences leaping through windows or screaming through their destroyed dream worlds. But this music, even though it speaks of horrible and frightening things, speaks at the same time so perfectly about the heart and to the heart. This music, at the same time it contains pain and anger and hope, contains a vision of a better world yet beyond the present and is some of the most beautiful ever to come out of men’s souls or out of that form of expression called Jazz.

     STEVE YOUNG Music-Art Co-ordinator, The Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School

"The New Wave in Jazz" is not an Impulse compilation as the album cover may have you think. It's actually a live concert from 1965 featuring four Impulse groups. The Classic Coltrane Quartet contributes an outstanding live version of "Nature Boy," and Archie Shepp contributes a septet version of "Hambone." But the album's real treats are two tracks each from Charles Tolliver and Grachan Moncur III. Both of these artists were fantastic, under-recorded players best known to this point for a few appeaerences on Blue Note -- Tolliver most notably appeared with Jackie McLean, while Moncur, in addition to appearing with McLean, recorded two excellent albums as a leader. On "The New Wave in Jazz," Tolliver, with the awesome band of Bobby Hutcherson, James Spaulding, Cecil McBee and Billy Higgins, plays Monk's "Brilliant Corners" brilliantly, and his own "Plight." Moncur's group also features Hutch and McBee with Beaver Harris added on drums, and they tackle two of Grachan's compositions, "Blue Free" and the indefatigable "The Intellect." It's too bad Tolliver and Moncur couldn't have each recorded an album with these lineups, but at least you can get this.
This is a fantastic album, though it is incomplete. According to Amiri Baraka, who was instrumental in getting Impulse to produce this album, Sun Ra's performance was left off the LP without explanation. In addition, Baraka wrote the original liner notes which don't seem to be included in the CD version. Ah well, great music but an incomplete package...what else would a musigeek complain about?
This is great stuff, strong unadulterated pure avant-garde stuff. This can be off putting, unless you're coming from the second viennese school or other polytonal/duodecaphonic music, but once it gets you, you are hooked, and you will feel truly sorry for those who don't hear it. I love this album.

Grachan Moncur III & The Jazz Composer's Orchestra - 1974 - Echoes of Prayer

Grachan Moncur III & The Jazz Composer's Orchestra 
Echoes of Prayer

01. Band 1
i. Prologue
ii. Reverend King's Wings I
iii. Medgar's Menace I
iv. Drum Transition
v. Garvey's Ghost (Space Station)
02. Band 2
i. Angela's Angel I
ii. Drum Transition
03. Band 3
i. Right On I
ii. Angela's Angel II
iii.Right On II
iv. Reverend King's Wings II
v. Medgar's Menace II
vi. Drum Transition
vii. African Percussion Ensemble
04. Band 4
i. Right On III
ii. Angela's Angel III (Jamboree)
iii. Drum Transition
iv. Amen Cadence
v. Epilogue: Excuse Me, Mr Justice

Alto Saxophone, Flute – Carlos Ward
Bass – Cecil McBee, Charlie Haden
Bass Trombone – Jack Jeffers
Clarinet – Perry Robinson
Congas, Percussion [Talking Drum] – Titos Sompa
Drums – Beaver Harris
Flute – Keith Marks (tracks: A1(ii)), Pat Patrick
Guitar – Mark Elf
Percussion – Coster Massamba, Frederick Simpson
Percussion [Cowbell, Shekere] – Malonga Quasquelourd
Percussion [Maracas, Hair Drum] – Jakuba Abiona
Piano – Carla Bley
Trombone – Janice Robinson
Trombone, Voice, Composed By – Grachan Moncur III
Trumpet – Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Stafford Osborne
Viola – Toni Marcus
Violin – Leroy Jenkins, Ngoma
Voice – Jeanne Lee, Mervine Grady

Recorded April 11, 1974 at Blue Rock Studio, New York City

In the early 1970s, avant garde jazz did a similar thing as rock music and sought to reinvent itself though pieces for increasingly large ensembles. The results were sometimes impressive, but more often slightly embarrassing.

Echoes of Prayer is an ambitious free jazz symphony composed by Moncur for Carla Bley's Jazz Composers Orchestra. Moncur has always been a proficient composer, but up to this point his pieces had mostly been for much smaller ensembles. While he was familiar with the textures that result from simultaneous group improvisation through his work with Alan Silva, Dave Burrell and Archie Shepp, composing a multi-layered texture like this was in some ways a first.

The result is perhaps a bit overwhelming on the first listen, more than Burrell's and Silva's walls of noise actually, because there seems to be so much going on at every corner of this music, which is really more like a collage of pieces glued together. There is definitely some good stuff in this, even though it may take a while to find it as the arrangements are big and the music is not really accessible. If it has a weakness, it's probably that sometimes the score seems to be uncertain about where it's heading and if it's really coherent; fortunately these sections are usually followed by other section with a very strong sense of direction and coherence.

Definitely Moncur's most abstract work, miles away from his 1960s records. Complex, but still very rewarding.

Grachan Moncur III - 1970 - Aco Dei De Madrugada (One Morning I Waked Up Very Early)

Grachan Moncur III 
Aco Dei De Madrugada (One Morning I Waked Up Very Early)

01. Aco Dei De Madrugada 7:02
02. Ponte IO 6:46
03. Osmosis 9:25
04. Tiny Temper 5:28

Bass – Beb Guérin
Drums – Nelson Serra de Castro
Piano, Voice – Fernando Martins
Trombone – Grachan Moncur III

Recorded September 10th and November 4th, 1969, Studio Saravah, Paris.

In 1969 Grachan Moncur III - jazz trombonist and composer - recorded two albums for the legendary French free jazz record label BYG: "New Africa" and "One Morning I Woke Up Very Early (Aco Dei De Madrugada)".

Moncur had come to France via Algiers, where he had played at the First Pan-African Cultural Festival. This Festival, which focused on Black African ethnic identity politics, had been held in Algeria from the 21st of July to the 1st of August 1969 by the new-fled Organization of African Unity. Moncur had come to the Festival together with Archie Shepp, with whom he had been playing since 1967 (i.a. on 'Life At The Donaueschingen Music Festival' and 'The Way Ahead') and with whom he would remain closely associated in further years (on 'Things Have Got To Change' and 'Kwanza'). Besides Moncur, Shepp brought with him cornet player Clifton Thornton, pianist Dave Burrell, bass player Alan Silva, and avant drummer Sunny Murray.

At the Festival, the whole group was invited to record in Paris by BYG Actuel's Jean Georgakarakos and Jean-Luc Young, and record they did: in a very short time span, working in ever-changing constellations, they created scores of beautiful free jazz records. "New Africa" was recorded on august 11th 1969, only ten days after the end of the Festival; "One Morning I Woke Up Very Early (Aco Dei De Madrugada)" was recorded only a little later, on september 10th and november 4th 1969.

But the jazz corpus created by those invited to record by BYG Actuel - though one of the most enticing on record - was marred by greed: to this day, BYG's mainmen Bisceglia, Young and Georgakarakos have apparently not paid any royalties to the artists involved. The financial problems this created for Moncur initiated a downward spiral, which was worsened by health problems. The result was that Moncur was able to record only rarely after the early 1970's, apparently became quite depressed, and didn't even merit a personal entry in the 7th (2004) edition of "The Pinguin Guide To Jazz On CD".

It is ironic that where a Festival (the First Pan-African Cultural Festival) provided the main impetus for BYG Records, another festival proved to be it's undoing. BYG Records organized a festival together with the countercultural magazine Actuel called 'Le Festival Actuel'. It was planned to take place from October 24th to 27th 1969 in Paris. However, the French authorities denied the organizers the necessary permits, fearing that either a Woodstock-like chaos or a repetition of the may 1968 student riots might ensue. This forced the organizers to move the entire Festival at a very late stage to Belgium, to a place called Amougies (or Amengijs in Flemish) which is near the French-Belgium border. The Festival had a very ambitious line-up, featuring Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Soft Machine and Ten Years After. Also, much of BYG Records roster of Free Jazz performers participated; Grachan Moncur III appeared on Saturday night, together with Don Cherry, saxophonist Arthur Jones and pianist Joachim Kurt Kuhn. Frank Zappa was master of ceremonies at the Festival. Though an audience of 15-20,000 attended the Festival, the financial strain it caused was too much of a burden for BYG Records, which finally went bankrupt in the early seventies.

Bisceglia went on to become a Jazz photographer; Jean Georgakarakos founded Celluloid Records; and Jean-Luc Young founded the record label Charly Records in France in 1974 and moved operations to England in 1975. Living up to his reputation for shady deals, Young ran into legal trouble due to copyright infringement in 2000 while still working for Charly Records.

The trombone - Moncur's instrument - has held a particular fascination for me ever since I saw drone metal band Earth perform live, Steve Moore - who has roots in Free Jazz - providing beautiful trombone gravitas to Earth's haunted Americana. But Moncur's trombone playing is light years removed from Moore's drones: his style is firmly rooted in Jazz tradition.

Moncur's music is not Free Jazz of the chaotic and noisy, Merzbow kind; and it is also devoid of the cheap quasi-mystical exoticism which can spoil Indian/Jazz-fusion-type Free Jazz. Notwithstanding the influence of Shepp's ethnopolitical protest music, both albums present a rather lyrical style of Free Jazz, elegant rather than intransigent, poetic rather than acerbic, a mélange rather than a hotchpotch. Moncur comes across as a good-natured progressive who chooses to explore both the heartlands and the borders of the Jazz tradition, rather than as a revolutionary firebrand who aims to scorch the earth of that tradition.

But that does not mean that Moncur's music lacks passion - on the contrary!

'New Africa' features Roscoe Mitchell (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), Alan Silva (bass) and Andrew Cyrille (drums). It opens with the eponymous seventeen-and-a-half minute suite, which consists of four movements. Over the course of these movements, the relaxed, steady bass work by Silva binds together the energetic performances of the other musicians. The drums and the piano on the one hand and the sax and the trombone on the other maneuver around each other in benevolent aerobatic dog-fights. In 'Space Spy' Dave Burrell provides a suspenseful piano tune that gives the track a tense feel appropriate to it's title: that of a Free Jazz afro-futurist espionage thriller. The third track ('Exploration') is the 'Free-est' of all. It is thoroughly informed by Alan Silva's musical style: spiritually ecstatic, with an interplay of instruments that is as writhing as a mass of Cthulhoid tentacles. Archie Shepp appears on the fourth and final track of 'New Africa', where a self-confident (but never swaggering) swing provides the two musicians with a theater stage on which to perform their powerful art.

I'm also very fond of the second part of this double LP, the album "One Morning I Woke Up Very Early (Aco Dei De Madrugada)". It was recorded after 'Le Festival Actuel'. This album presents two songs which are interpretations of Brazilian traditionals: "Aco Dei De Madrugada" and "Ponte Lo"; and two originals: "Osmosis" and "Tiny Temper". On this recording, Moncur was assisted by French bass player Beb Guérin, Brazilian pianist Fernando Martins and Brazilian drummer Nelson Serra De Castro. More laid-back than 'New Africa', the Latin influence gives his music an immensely graceful swing. - Enjoy!

Grachan Moncur III - 1969 - New Africa

Grachan Moncur III 
New Africa

01. New Africa (17:30)
1st Movement: Queen Tamam
2nd Movement: New Africa
3rd Movement: Black Call
4th Movement: Ethiopian Market
02. Space Spy 6:55
03. Exploration 10:45
04. When 12:00

Bass – Alan Silva
Drums – Andrew Cyrille
Piano – Dave Burrell
Saxophone [Alto], Flute [Piccolo] – Roscoe Mitchell
Saxophone [Tenor] – Archie Shepp (tracks: 4)
Trombone – Grachan Moncur III

Recorded August 11, 1969 in Paris.

The BYG/Actuel experience was, to put it mildly, a dynamic mixture of personalities from across the spectrum of the late-‘60s jazz avant-garde. Well-seasoned vets crossed paths with energetic younger players and exchanged knowledge for enthusiasm in studios and on concert stages, sending free-jazz into the 1970s with a vibrant thrust of regenerative energy. One of the label’s finest efforts, New Africa, belongs to the great trombonist and composer Grachan Moncur III.

A big hunk of the heaviest-hitting Actuel recordings took place due to activities related to The Pan-African Music Festival in Algiers in July of ’69 and the subsequent Actuel Festival in Amougies, Belgium in October of the same year. BYG had been extant since ’67, but it was really this gush of furious collaboration, largely led by Archie Shepp and The Art Ensemble of Chicago, that shaped up sub-label Actuel’s roster and in turn delivered an absolutely vital chapter in jazz history.

There are of course exceptions. For instance, Paul Bley’s Ramblin’ was the result of a licensing deal, having been cut in Rome in ’66 (released in ’69), and while it is surely an important document, its relevance to the overall Actuel story is qualitative and not representative. The label’s lasting identity is based upon that roughly five month period demarked above, with Grachan Moncur III playing a key role as one of the scenario’s veterans, a trombonist as rich in his playing as he was compositionally brilliant.

Moncur is one of the few Actuel alums to have also recorded for Blue Note and Impulse. His work for those labels is persistently worthwhile, including his fruitful alliance with sax giant Jackie McLean and a pair of LPs as a leader (‘63’s Evolution and the next year’s Some Other Stuff) for Blue Note plus his long associations with Shepp and Marion Brown for Impulse.

A quick study of his background shows how he smartly hovered between the solid bedrock of the R&B and jazz mainstreams (touring with Ray Charles and Art Farmer along the way) and more progressive elements: the Blue Notes in particular are splendid examples of “inside/outside” playing, where advanced bop/modal jazz is taken to the edge of a new, fresh sound (Sam Rivers’ early credits and a few of Andrew Hill’s LPs provide additional models of Blue Note’s proclivity for the in/out sensibility).

And for Moncur, working with Shepp and Brown was a superb move into the heart of the New Thing since all three were influenced (if not slavishly devoted to) earlier and reliably bluesier trad forms. Along with McLean, Shepp is Moncur’s strongest musical partnership in terms of sheer productivity, and that relationship is what leads us to New Africa.

In contrast to avant-jazz at its most abstract, modality is front and center here, this structure allowing the music to glide with graceful intensity through the four movements of the album’s 17 and a half-minute titular suite. The moments of lung-force are abundant, but the vibe is certainly akin to Coltrane’s celebrated blend of urgency and calm. The sonic emphasis of “New Africa” is on a tough but gorgeous sprawl of warmly inspired soloing and savvy group interaction, all of it in service to the assured depth of the leader’s compositions.

No matter how nicely a piece reads on paper, it’ll only sound as good as those playing the tune. The prime weapon on New Africa is not Moncur but pianist Dave Burrell, a major if occasionally overlooked New Thing contributor who on this LP gets to lay down a massive extension of McCoy Tyner’s methodically captivating keyboard style, his playing a tense thread of rhythmic and melodic kinetics helping to inspire flights of substantial expressiveness from the horns.

Burrell has solo space aplenty, and in that context he shines as bright as anywhere else I’ve heard him, but on this recording his role is to lend beautiful, communicative cohesion. He supplies a mature sound, with his approach to one of jazz’s core instruments knowledgeable yet forward-thinking as it provides structural warmth and eschews simple support (at times his playing is also similar to Jaki Byard). Burrell is crucial here: both the rhythm section and the horns build upon and launch from his sublime handiwork.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille is most often lauded as a member of Cecil Taylor’s heavyweight groups, though he’s led his own sessions and worked as an educator. Cyrille’s as robust as any free drummer to make it to tape, though he’s not as loose as Sunny Murray or Milford Graves. He shares some of Graves’ assertiveness and snatches of his wide-open percussionist attack, but if I were to compare New Africa’s drummer with another player, it would probably be with fellow Shepp and Moncur associate Beaver Harris.

Those who know Harris are likely already familiar with Cyrille. Where his playing is loose and disobedient of strict timekeeper’s responsibilities (at least in any kind of explicit fashion), there is still recognizable forward motion, with delicious crispness upon the snare and cymbals, especially on “Space Spy” and the album’s closer “When.” There is ease in Cyrille’s playing, but nothing feels offhand; he’s always in the moment.

Alan Silva’s bass playing is a recurring theme in the history of free/avant affairs and in the BYG/Actuel discography his name is on some of the wildest material to ever hit the bins jazz or otherwise, with two entries under his leadership. And the fact that he played with both Taylor (on the Blue Note masterpieces Unit Structures and Conquistador!) and Albert Ayler (check out the Impulse monsters Live in Greenwich Village and Love Cry) is enough to insure his status as one of the best.

Silva’s known for forging rather esoteric paths (his ESP Disk Skillfulness, for example), but he resists muddying the power of the collective voice with needless grandstanding. And Silva’s general drive here falls solidly into post-Garrison mode, though unlike much of the bassist’s recorded work for Coltrane the human ear can actually detect his contribution. He weaves in and out of Cyrille’s agitated momentum and rubs up against Burrell’s rhythmic side with bold strokes of sturdy individualism, and on “Exploration” he’s remindful of his partner in freeform bass Henry Grimes.

In some ways the wildcard here is Roscoe Mitchell, a Windy City improviser noted for working with AACM cohorts Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton and chiefly for his longstanding tenure in The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Alto sax and piccolo are his instruments on this session, and he melds his city/scene’s hotly collectivist style (more New Orleans, less post-Coleman Hawkins/Lester Young solo-centricity) into Moncur’s admirable objective.

Mitchell’s solos here appropriately push outward but are also striking for how well connected they remain to the stream of the music, staying in constant dialogue with the group instead of stepping outside it or above it. It’s simple really. Mitchell has nothing to prove, with the vitality of his creative personality consistently elevating the whole. His debut was titled Sound; it paints an accurate portrait of Mitchell’s improvisational strategy and underscores his integral participation in this unit’s unflagging pulse.

Burrell is the key, but Moncur is the lock. His writing is drenched in tradition yet is still alive in this young century, as is his playing on an instrument that became less common in jazz as the landscape increased its movements toward fluidity and abstraction. Alongside frequent Shepp band member Roswell Rudd, Moncur sits at the top of the heap of the USA’s ‘60s free-bonesmen.

His playing is never blustery, and when his tone is ragged it’s obvious this quality is deliberate and not the result of any lapse of control. The guy is an absolute fountain of tonal dexterity and a consummate catalyst of sustained jaunts in group imagination. It’s a sad reality that Moncur’s frequency of output takes a steep decline post-BYG. But don’t let’s linger too long on the spilt milk of record label knuckleheadism; it’s ultimately much healthier to champion the successes, those fully realized works that add such a fine nook to the vast labyrinth of (post)modern jazz.

Oh, just a minute. In walked Archie. Yeah, he’s here, throwing down his typically raucous lung purge as a guest on “When.” Expertly weaving around both Mitchell and Moncur’s playing as he delivers gutsy blasts of bluesy shrapnel, he assists in bringing New Africa to a stirring conclusion. And Shepp’s appearance is testament to where jazz was heading in this expansive period.

After the death of Coltrane there was span of uncertainty as jazz headed into a new decade. But underneath the last-gasp commerciality of certain strains of Fusion stood a strong underground of musicians focused upon refining the avant-garde into a constantly evolving and maturing movement. All of New Africa’s contributors were large factors in this development, and the album sits proudly at the end of one era as it points to a new road.

This LP sprang from the endless luminescence of late-Coltrane and helped to signal the way ahead. Soon to come was the no-nonsense playing for the sheer hell of it that derived in part from Sam Rivers’ Studio Rivbea and also the copious loft-jazz goodness Douglas Records compiled on their three outstanding Wildflowers volumes.

Other Actuel releases register differently, some like declarations of fiery tribute (Frank Wright’s One for John, Sunny Murray’s Hommage to Africa, Shepp’s Yasmina, a Black Woman), others as valuable statements from undersung figures (Kenneth Terroade’s Love Rejoice, Arthur Jones’ Africanasia, Clifford Thornton’s Ketchaoua), and a few as installments in discographies long and distinguished (Steve Lacy’s Moon, Anthony Braxton’s B-Xo/N-0-1-47a, Bley’s Ramblin’). But New Africa is a conduit. And its channels are still quite active.

Grachan Moncur III - 1965 - Some Other Stuff

Grachan Moncur III 
Some Other Stuff

01 Gnostic
02 Thandiwa
03 The Twins
04 Nomadic

Bass – Cecil McBee
Drums – Anthony Williams
Piano – Herbie Hancock
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trombone – Grachan Moncur III

Recorded on July 6, 1964.

For a time, it seemed that trombonist Grachan Moncur III was destined for jazz stardom. In demand both as a soloist and a composer, he was one of the most original voices to emerge in the early 1960s. Moncur’s recordings for Blue Note as leader and sideman in the company of Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, Tony Williams, Bobby Hutcherson and others were hailed as touchstones of an era. But for various reasons, some of his own doing and some beyond his control, Moncur never enjoyed the sustained success of his peers, although his talent was never at issue. The recent three-CD collection on the new Mosaic Select label of Moncur’s most significant Blue Note work reaffirms the trombonist’s early triumphs and focuses the spotlight once again on an artist who still has something to say. The set includes Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond (1963), Destination Out! (1963), Hipnosis (1967) and ‘Bout Soul (1967) and Moncur’s Evolution (1963) and Some Other Stuff (1964).

Born in 1937, Moncur, a Newark, N.J., native, was all but predestined to become a musician. His father was the highly respected bassist Grachan “Brother” Moncur, and his uncle was saxophonist Al Cooper, leader of the legendary Savoy Sultans. “People like Dizzy Gillespie, Babs Gonzales and James Moody were always dropping by the house, and they took an interest in me,” Moncur recalls. “Sarah Vaughan and my mother were best friends. Sarah was a great cook and used to cook in our kitchen!”

The youngster was drawn to the trombone at a very early age: “I always remember a valve trombone being in the house. When my father was on the road, I’d sneak it out from under the bed and try to play it even though I was too small to pick it up.” After studying piano and cello, Moncur took up the trombone in earnest at nine: “My father bought a pawn ticket for five dollars and came home with a silver-plated trombone wrapped in newspaper. That was it!”

The budding musician was quickly drawn into Newark’s dynamic jazz scene. “There were quite a few jazz clubs, and every night there was a jam session somewhere,” he recalls. Moncur also learned a lot playing in the Newark YMCA band where he met another up-and-comer, saxophonist Wayne Shorter: “He was kind of weird, always looking up in space at something nobody else could see. Even then he was quite advanced and had a great sound.”

In 1951, Moncur was sent to high school at the renowned Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. “My mother wanted to get me off the scene in Newark because the drug situation was bad in our area,” he explains. Laurinburg had an active music program. Dizzy Gillespie had attended the school, and Moncur recalls that the trumpeter’s spirit still permeated its halls almost two decades later. The students were exposed to a wide variety of music. “We played overtures and marches like ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘Old Comrades,'” Moncur remembers. “That stuff was hip! I’d love to get a marching band today to play that stuff!”

After graduating from Laurinburg in 1955, Moncur returned to Newark, where he joined pianist Nat Phipps’ band. The group was made up of the city’s finest young players, including Wayne Shorter. An encounter with Miles Davis helped Moncur establish his own identity at that early stage of his career. “I used to go to Birdland and sit in on Monday nights,” Moncur recounts. “One night Miles came in. I went up to introduce myself and told him how much I admired him. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that corny shit to nobody! I know who you are, man. You got something. Dig yourself!’ That made me go inside myself. Not that I didn’t respect other musicians like J. J. [Johnson] anymore, but I didn’t idolize them.”

Moncur continued his formal education at the Manhattan School of Music and later Juilliard but had to drop out for financial reasons. In 1958, he formed his own group during a stay in Miami Beach. His father set up an audition at a local club, but when the owner heard the group, he hired the rhythm section without the leader. “That was a low point,” Moncur recalls. “It was like the world came to an end for me.”

A few days later, however, he got a call inviting him to join Ray Charles’ orchestra. Some of the band had heard the trombonist jamming at the Sir John Lounge in Miami Beach where Charles was appearing and brought him to the leader’s attention. “I went from wanting to die to the top of the world!” says Moncur. He spent about a year and a half with Charles, during which time he was taken under the wing of such veterans as Hank Crawford, Edgar Willis and David “Fathead” Newman. “I was the kid in the band-full of youthful enthusiasm,” says Moncur. “I wanted to play all the time. Ray used to say, ‘Tell that trombone player not to play so much behind me!'”

While Moncur was touring with the Ray Charles Show, Art Farmer and Benny Golson liked what they heard of the young trombonist and soon afterward invited him to join their Jazztet. When Moncur gave Ray Charles his notice, he explained that, although he loved working in the band, he felt it was time to spread his wings, and the Jazztet was a prime showcase for his instrument. “I really admire your spunk,” the singer replied, “but do you realize it’s 1959, and I’m booked till 1980?” Nevertheless, Moncur took the plunge with Charles’ blessing.

It was during his tenure with the Jazztet that Moncur began to write in earnest. “Art Farmer told me that he noticed from the way I played that I might make a good composer,” Moncur recalls. “That same night, I heard this little song in my head. I called it ‘Sonny’s Back’ for Sonny Rollins, who was my favorite musician. The next day I sang it for Benny Golson, who took his horn out and played it right there on the street.” The group eventually recorded the piece and adopted it as a theme.

Art Farmer helped teach the young composer to notate his work: “I’d never tried to write anything that complicated before. Art took me into a practice room, sat me down at the piano and showed me how to subdivide the bar. I learned more in that half hour with him than I had in any of my formal schooling!”

Moncur took his first recorded solos with the Jazztet. His early influences on trombone had been Bennie Green, Frank Rosolino, Bill Harris and Trummy Young, but after hearing J.J. Johnson, Moncur’s playing crystallized. Although impressed with Johnson’s speed and execution, the young trombonist was more taken with the structure of his solos. “His solos seemed to be an extension of the music,” Moncur explains. “His playing was very closely aligned with his compositions. That helped me shape some of my ideas and taught me to think in terms of keeping form.”

Hearing the playback at his first Jazztet recording session prompted Moncur to make some adjustments in his style. “I was playing too many eighth-notes in succession,” he says. “I wasn’t breaking up my phrases, and it sounded monotonous. I found that when I played shorter phrases using different inflections and articulations it could be more effective.” Moncur eventually arrived at his own highly personal style, combining a trenchant but thoughtful improvisational approach with the pleasingly robust sound and effortless swing of some of his early influences.

Moncur remained with the Jazztet until it disbanded in 1962. Living in Brooklyn, he entered into an extremely creative period of freelancing with like-minded musicians such as Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. These associations led to the Blue Note recordings that were to become classics in the evolution of modern jazz. Between 1963 and 1967, Moncur appeared on some eight Blue Note albums, including two as a leader, four as a sideman with McLean and one each with Hancock and Wayne Shorter. “A Blue Note date was more than just a record date-it was an event,” the trombonist says. “There was a certain Blue Note style of playing. I helped to break that mold because they let me do my own thing.” In addition to featuring his always-absorbing solo style, the albums showcased his evolving sensibility as a writer.

Whereas Moncur’s earliest pieces were tailored to the straightahead style of the Jazztet, his Blue Note work was far more exploratory both in form and mood. Michael Cuscuna, who produced the Mosaic Select compilation, notes that the trombonist’s pieces “are unique like Monk’s, and each one, coupled with its title, creates a vivid mental picture.” The reference to Monk is apt, for several of Moncur’s pieces from this period do have distinctly Monkish touches, particularly the ingenious “Frankenstein” and, of course, “Monk in Wonderland.” “His compositions,” Cuscuna adds, “while friendly to musical conventions, are also open and lyrical and exist within their own logic.”

Other pieces in the Mosaic box, such as “The Coaster,” are extensions of his writing for the Jazztet, while “Evolution” and “Gnostic” reflect the growing spirituality that would suffuse much of his post-Blue Note writing. Finally, there are evocative mood pieces, such as the exquisitely melodramatic “Ghost Town.” Much of Moncur’s writing is deceptively simple and sounds so natural that one is unaware of its underlying rhythmic or harmonic complexity. As Jackie McLean observed in 1968 to Nat Hentoff: “He often comes up with fantastic things that are right there in front of you, things you see every day but step over.”

Although he recorded extensively for the label, Blue Note never signed Moncur to a contract. “They got kind of pissed off at me because I had my music in my own company,” he explains. “In those days, the record companies used to publish tunes of their artists-even the biggest names gave up their early stuff like that.” Moncur has since made his peace with Blue Note: “It took 35 years, but I’m glad I lived to see it! I could have handled things differently, but I was young then and didn’t have any guidance. I don’t regret what I did because I own all my own stuff now, and these reissues pay a thousand times more than I would have gotten when these recordings were made.”

Moncur feels that his dispute with Blue Note may have alienated other companies and even some of his fellow musicians. “It forced me into another direction-toward the younger musicians in the avant-garde,” he says. “They respected what I was doing and pulled me into their thing. That saved me because I had nowhere else to go.” In the late 1960s, the trombonist found himself in a number of challenging settings, collaborating with such experimenters as Frank Lowe, Marion Brown, Sunny Murray, Beaver Harris and Archie Shepp. Moncur became one of only a handful of trombonists to move the instrument beyond the conventions of bebop. “‘Avant-garde’ or ‘free’ playing is a concept just like swing or bebop,” he observes. “You can’t just jump in and start playing it. You’ve got to respect it and learn how to fit in.”

In 1964 Moncur’s career took another odd turn. He auditioned for a role in the original Broadway production of James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie. When director Burgess Meredith asked Moncur to play for him, the trombonist thought to himself, “He’s not going to hire me anyway, so I’m gonna play some weird shit!” Moncur played several of his own pieces and when he got to “Riff Raff,” Meredith turned to him and said, “I like that! We can use it in the third scene!” Then he asked the trombonist to play along with a Muddy Waters record. After two bars he stopped him, saying, “That’s all I need to hear. Give him a contract!” In addition to playing solo trombone, Moncur also had a speaking role in the play, which ran for four months.

While increasingly drawn into the “new music” of the turbulent 1960s, Moncur also worked with tenor saxophonists Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins. “I used to sit in with Sonny on opening night, and then he’d tell me to make the rest of the week with him,” Moncur recalls. A tour of Europe in 1967 led to several recording projects with Archie Shepp. In Paris two years later, Moncur recorded his own New Africa suite (BYG). The album also contains the aptly titled “Exploration,” which shows just how seamlessly the trombonist had assimilated aspects of free jazz into his music. Five years later, he recorded perhaps his most ambitious work, Echoes of Prayer (JCOA), with the star-studded Jazz Composers’ Orchestra. An orchestral work of great rhythmic variety and emotional depth, it features some of Moncur’s most powerful trombone statements on record.

In the 1970s and 1980s, while continuing to perform, Moncur moved increasingly into education. From 1982 until 1991, he was composer-in-residence at the Newark Community School of the Arts. “We had students from eight to 80,” he recalls. “I did most of my teaching from the keyboard and grew with the kids! Teaching helped me develop my own musicianship.” He also conducted his own “Moncurainian” workshops with his wife, Tamam, a classically trained pianist and gifted arranger.

In recent years, work has been sporadic for Moncur. Aside from occasional reunion performances with old colleagues like Archie Shepp, Moncur has not had many opportunities to have his music performed. “A lot of musicians of my generation don’t seem to get the opportunities like the ‘new breed,'” he says. In addition, he has had extensive dental work, which required him to practically relearn his instrument. Moncur remains positive, however, saying, “In many ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise.”

A.B. Spellman wrote in the original liner notes to Evolution: “Moncur seemed constantly to talk more about what he intended to do than about what he had done.” That remains true today. “Some people have approached me about putting some of my new ideas into practice,” the trombonist says. “I don’t have an attitude anymore like the world’s against me. I know that everything’s on me this time, and I intend to be ready.”

Grachan Moncur III - 1963 - Evolution

Grachan Moncur III 

01. Air Raid
02. Evolution
03. The Coaster
04. Monk In Wonderland

Alto Saxophone – Jackie McLean
Bass – Bob Cranshaw
Drums – Tony Williams
Trombone, Written-By – Grachan Moncur III
Trumpet – Lee Morgan
Vibraphone – Bobby Hutcherson

Recorded on November 21, 1963.

In the post-bop explosion of the early 60s, Blue Note was the home of countless innovations. With Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Sam Rivers and company, Blue Note boasted one of the finest lineups in music short of only the San Fran psych scene. Musicians on the label seemed to be pushing music in drastically new directions, warping the idiom of popular music right to the brink of free jazz. Not nearly as fiery or intense as their free jazz contemporaries however, these post-bop musicians instead pushed the boundaries in other ways. Post-bop albums are in a way catchy and melodic - retaining many of the ideas that made earlier jazz movements so engaging. Yet, they include many of the bombastic, radical elements that make the free jazz movement so fascinating. Abstract passages, weird tones, lengthy soloing and unusual instrumentation are not an uncommon sight in post-bop. The beauty of post-bop musicians, as you might imagine, is the ability to balance forward-thinking elements while still remaining indebted to their bebop base.

One of the finest, most original albums to come out of this movement is Grachan Moncur's Evolution. Centered around a brooding atmosphere and abstract melodies, Evolution is equal parts innovative, captivating and eccentric. Most jazz fans will recognize the album's lineup as absolutely jam-packed, with critically acclaimed members abound. Each member on Evolution, save Cranshaw (exclusively a studio musician) has a classic under his belt and the way this album is executed - it's obvious. Each musician brings in hints of their genius to the collective whole. Yet the beauty of Evolution is that despite this stellar lineup, it feels utterly unique and ground-breaking. Despite drawing off classics like Dialogue and Destination Out - Evolution feels nothing like them. 

Evolution is so distinct in fact - I'd argue it's somewhat of a blueprint for Eric Dolphy's later masterpiece Out to Lunch. . The rhythm section is the same, with Tony Williams and Bobby Hutcherson proving quite the dynamic duo. Though Out to Lunch may come off as more free-flowing and playful, it still builds off many of the ideas established on Evolution. A similar atmosphere and avant-garde approach permeates Evolution and the rhythmic base of Tony Williams/Bobby Hutcherson grounds the album in a similar bluesy, abstract space). The two obviously built chemistry over the course of a number of similar albums (One Step Beyond being a notable example) and Evolution is a prime example of their amazing interplay. In other words, if you took Out To Lunch and revolved it around horns instead of Dolphy's unusual instrumentation and threw in some spacey, ambient fusion-era Miles - Evolution would be the result.

Surprisingly, the first artist you notice on Evolution isn't Grachan Moncur. It isn't that shocking to hear a trombone leading the charge, even if it is a little uncommon. It is however, pretty shocking to hear what Tony Williams can do on the drums. Talk all you want about Clyde Stubblefield, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Neil Peart, or otherwise - 9/10 times I take Williams. Aside from maybe Jaki Liebezeit, whose rhythmic pulses on Can's studio albums are still mind-boggling as ever - Williams is the most inventive drummer I can think of.

Williams' drumming style is unlike anything I've ever heard and continues to be something I can't wrap my head around. On Evolution especially, his style is onomatopoeic. He kshu-kshu-kshu-es on the cymbals and swings around the drum set with a baaruuhm-psht-psht-gugugu-pow. For often Brrrtt-tap-brrrtt-tap-brrrtt-tap-s on the hi-hats... He even strings together some passages I couldn't describe with vocals. In other words, Williams' style is puzzling and unpredictable. It's constantly on the edge, teetering and filled with contradictions. As soon as I think I figure out which direction he's heading, he veers quickly in the opposite. Some rhythms I can't piece together logically and some I'm convinced are just nonsensical space eaters. In other words, Tony Williams constantly challenges me to revaluate my thoughts on drumming. He has one of his finest showings on Evolution and it's something truly remarkable. 

Though Williams may be Evolution's standout, the album's biggest accomplishments is challenging and pushing Lee Morgan. More known for his upbeat bebop hits, he's shockingly abstract and innovative on Evolution. Instead of exploding into free-wheeling, rapid-fire solos, he's contained. On "Evolution", he sputters, putters and tinkers around for a few minutes, keeping himself grounded. Instead of romping his way through blues scales and accelerating up to high-pitched squeals, he's slow paced and thoughtful. He gradually works his way up to a brief crescendo, only to tone it down and circle his way back to the beginning. But this time, there isn't a catchy head or melody to return to - but a series of sharp, jagged riffs. I can almost picture him in the studio, halfway through the solo, bracing himself for a catchy refrain, leaned back in almost Miles Davis-esque pose - only to stop himself and return to the composition.

In a sense, Morgan comes off as the kid in a room full of grown-ups. He's usually just there to have a good time and party but when things get serious on this album, he's reminding everyone of his skills. As a result, he still returns to old habits - being the only soloist that reaches explosive peaks. But compared to his usual approach, Morgan is restrained on his solos, yet experimental with his melodies. In my eyes, part of the charm of this album is hearing Morgan in this middle ground. Contrasted with the reedy, semi-grating style of Jackie McLean and the awkward tones of Moncur, Morgan is the glue that reminds you, "we're here to innovate but also have some fun".

Though Morgan may be the "glue guy" on Evolution, the underrated piece is Bob Cranshaw. On "Air Raid" he really leads the charge, driving the track's direction. There's moments when he absolutely shifts the tone of the track, sliding down the neck of the bass and absolutely dropping the track to the floor. He takes the track to an utter standstill, with his slapping strings serving as a jolting transition from the earlier passages. An aviation-themed track, "Air Raid" relies on quick dives and rapid ascents - and Cranshaw is the man to do it. I'll admit that I'm usually bad at picking up on the technique bass players use on albums (especially with lineups this massive) but this is one of those moments when I could tell Cranshaw drove the whole track. He reminds me a lot of Richard Davis, who I might add has a similar impact on Out to Lunch. The rest of the album, he sticks to mostly bop-based techniques but he keeps the tracks oddly bouncy and rolls them right along. 

As a whole, Evolution is a stone cold classic in my book because of its innovative techniques, oddly catchy melodies and incredibly unique atmosphere. After months of searching, I've still only managed to find a handful of albums with a similarly intriguing ambiance. Even then, the albums are mostly some combination of Evolution's lineup.  This band truly had something special. Evolution is an album you should absolutely check out if you want to get a sense of Blue Note's talent in the 60s. An essential for any jazz fan.

Originally released in 1963, Evolution was the leader debut of trombonist and composer Grachan Moncur III, who had previously worked with tenor saxophonist Benny Golson's Jazztet, and was the regular "cool" foil for brimming-hot Jackie McLean in the alto saxophonist's quintet. Moncur was characterized by critics of the day as a player with measured intellectual calm, in heady contrast to the slushy tailgate of Roswell Rudd. Moncur's phrasing is comparatively deft, a bugle-flick that's easily aligned with post-J.J. players like Curtis Fuller. It's probably no coincidence that Evolution's cover art recalls a slightly earlier Reid Miles/Francis Wolff sleeve design, the purple hue of Curtis Fuller Volume 3 (Blue Note 1583, 1958).

To those familiar with the trombonist's other collaborations with McLean from the period—Destination Out! (Blue Note, 1963) and One Step Beyond (Blue Note, 1963)—the lineup here might not be too surprising. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson lends his glassy strike to the proceedings, while a seventeen-year-old Tony Williams is the drummer and Bob Cranshaw is featured on bass. The ringer is trumpeter Lee Morgan, making his only appearance with Williams on record and certainly the most vanguard recording session in his book (apparently Moncur's original choice for brass foil was Prestige recording artist Webster Young). There are four pieces here, all of which come from the trombonist's pen.

Moncur's compositions, especially from this period, tow a line between near-stasis and jaunty modal climbs; such pieces as "Ghost Town" and "Love and Hate" (from his dates with McLean) are tense, meditative tone-poems, imagist and evocative yet with a delicate swing. It is in more abstract, free-flowing canvases such as "The Intellect" from 1965 that wavering stasis has reached its pan-tempo conclusion.

Evolution's title track is a step in this direction, long tones set into bedrock by alto, trombone and bass, with a heartbeat-pulse in single brass and vibraphone notes. With an exhalation, these tones are punctuated by snare rattle and spiraling, uncoiled solo statements. McLean expounds with tart, keening and bluesy phrases, curled bursts of energy clambering out of a taut horizon. Morgan follows with punchy arpeggios and half-valve calls; he approaches the net of obliquely dissonant drone with the rich lines of a balladeer, sounding both challenged and entirely within his "bag." Indeed, all three hornmen treat their solo spots as shaky soliloquy rather than exploring the possibilities of silence and mass a la Feldman and Ligeti (composers to which this piece offers some kinship).

While the first two pieces lean to the left of possibilities engendered by "modal jazz," the date closes with comparably more traditional tunes. "The Coaster" is jaunty, riff-laden post-bop out of a similar vein to "Riff Raff," which appeared on Destination Out!. So much credence could be given to McLean's poetic verbosity or Morgan's darting miniature explosions at the hand of Williams that the leader's solo statements might go unnoticed, which would be unfortunate. What might be termed "cool" is slick, effortless elision, the trombonist opting for evenly-paced thematic probes rather than the explosive peals chosen by his companions. "Monk in Wonderland" places side-by-side brassy swagger and detailed modal clambering, a nod to where Moncur's approaches to space and sound might also come from.

Moncur would go on to record dates with pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, including one more as a leader for Blue Note, Some Other Stuff (Blue Note, 1965). His association with the avant-garde and new Black music became more distinct in the latter half of the 1960s as he worked with saxophonists Archie Shepp and Marion Brown, drummer Sunny Murray, and bassist Alan Silva, including a trip to the Pan-African Festival in Ketchaoua, Algeria in 1969. Yet this debut displays keen orchestration and a dedication to form, qualities which imbue his playing and would ground that of others. Talk about a title instilled with artistic prophecy.

Musica Urbana - 1978 - Iberia

Musica Urbana 

01. En buenas manos (4:51)
02. Invitation au "xiulet" (7:54)
03. "Pasacalle" de nit (3:09)
04. Pasodoble Balear (8:08)
05. Vacances perdudes (12:09)

- Joan Albert Amargos: keyboards, sax, clarinets, whistle.
- Carles Benavent / bass, mandolin, cuica.
- Jordi Bonell / electric guitar, spanish guitar.
- Salvador Font / drums and percussions.
- Matthew Simon / trumpets, flugelhorn, onoboe.
- Jaume Cortadellas / picolo, flutes.
- Aurora Amargos / castanets

By the time of this 2nd album guitarist 'Luigi' Cabanach had left the band and was replaced by Jordi Bonell, and they got re-inforced by Jaume Cortadellas playing assorted flutes and Matthew Simon playing trumpets, flugelhorn and onoboe.

All the compositions are again by band leader Joan Albert Amargós with one track co- written with bassist Carles Benavent.

The opening 'En Buenas Manos' (In Good Hands) is the track co-written with Benavent (and curiously dedicated to Benavent himself) and features monster fretless bass showing why Benavent was sometimes called 'the Spanish Pastorius' and multi-layered winds contributing to the melodies. It is the most purely electric Jazz-Rock track in the album.

'Invitation au 'xiulet'' (dedicated to German contemporary composer Paul Hindemith) starts as Jazz-Rock but soon reveals the Contemporary Classical music elements and the middle section makes us feel like we are in a broadway musical with complex and deep arrangements.

''Pasacalle' de Nit' (Pasacalle is a lively style of traditional Spanish music which was also explored by foreign composers such as Salieri, Brahms or Stravinski) is dedicated to Stravinski and is the shortest track at 3m09s, featuring mandolin by Benavent, as from here the music becomes more obviously Classical and less Jazz-Rock.

'Pasodoble Balear' (dedicated to Spanish Classical composer Manuel De Falla) is again rooted in Traditional Spanish music (Pasodoble being another traditional Spanish music style) but arranged in a Prog-Jazz-Rock fashion. The abundant brass gives sometimes a big-band feel, we have also a pure Jazz section, but there are so many twists and turns in the style that any attempt to classify this music becomes doomed. Simply brilliant is the only thing I can say.

'Vacances Perdudes' (Lost Vacation) is the longest track at 12m09s and is again an amazing amalgam of styles, Contemporary Classical music and film music elements abound, but in the middle and final sections we get again energetic Jazz-Rock stuff with amazing bass work by Benavent, the track is full of constant changes and yet it manages to maintain a sense of coherent unity. Music composition and performance at its best, these guys were really one of a kind.

Those wanting their Prog to have a clear link to Rock may have trouble with this band and this album in particular, but if you are a Fusion lover or an open-minded progger able to appreciate Classically oriented composition, you have to listen to this band (both their albums), they are trully outstanding.

Musica Urbana / Blay Tritono / La Rondalla de la Costa - 1977 - Primera Aventura De Pepe Carvalho Tatuaje

Musica Urbana / Blay Tritono / La Rondalla de la Costa 
Primera Aventura De Pepe Carvalho Tatuaje

01. He Nacido Para Revolucionar El Infierno 4:38
02. Barcelona 0:58
03. Vallvidriera 5:00
04. Camina Gorda 4:14
05. Peluquería Queta (1ª Versió) 1:22
06. Peluquería Queta (2ª Versió) 0:22
07. Hotel Las Palmas 5:09
08. Amsterdam-Barcelona 2:40
09. Teresa Marsé 4:13
10. Charo 3:32

Musica Urbana
Bass, Mandolin – Carles Benavent
Drums, Percussion – Salvador Font
Flute [In G, Bass, Piccolo] – Jaume Cortadellas
Guitar – Jordi Bonell
Keyboards, Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Clarinet – Joan Albert Amargós*
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Matthew L. Simon

Blay Tritono
Alto Saxophone, Dulzaina [Tenora] – Joan Josep Blay
Drums, Bells, Percussion – Quino Béjar
Electric Bass, Contrabass, Guitar [Spanish], Bongos – Eduard Altaba
Flugelhorn [Tenor And Bass], Trumpet, Vocals – Nestor Munt
Keyboards, Xylophone – Víctor Ammann
Trombone – Vicens Morgan Calvo*

La ROndalla De La Costa
Marià Albero (lead vocals, guitar)
Manel Joseph (vocals, percussion)
Xavier Batllés (bass, contrabass, mandolin, bouzouki, [Puerto Rican quinto] conga, bandurria, laúd, marimba, keyboards)
Víctor Ammann (piano, Mini Moog, [electric] accordion, clavinet)
Ramón Olivares (flamenco guitar, laúd)
Nacho Quixano (drums, percussion)
Quino Béjar (drums, percussion)
Martí Soler (laúd, electric guitar)
Toni Xuclà (electric guitar, flamenco guitar)

This is the RARE third LP of Musica Urbana in fact it's a soundtrack of the film by Bigas Luna (1978) . The Ensemble Musicale is completed by the Musica Urbana, Blay Tritono and La Rondalla de la Costa.

Musica Urbana - 1976 - Musica Urbana

Musica Urbana 
Musica Urbana

01. Agost (6:54)
02. Violeta (8:20)
03. Vacas, toros y toreros (4:41)
04. Font (4:47)
05. Caramels de mel (5:24)
06. El Vesubio azul (8:24)

- Carles Benavent / bass, contrabass, acoustic guitar, percussion, vocal effects
- Salvador Font / drums, assorted percussions, vocal effects
- Lluis Cabanach / electric guitar, spanish guitar
- Joan Albert Amargós / Steinway piano, Fender piano, clavinet, moog, sax, clarinet, flute, trombone, whistle, violin

Aurora Amargos / castanets
Lucky Guri / Steinway piano, Fender piano, moog

Recorded at Gema-2 Studios de Barcelona, April 1976.

Jazz-rock, spanish traditional music, contemporary classical music, symphonic, big band music, film music. all of this and more was fused by the spanish Musica Urbana in their unique approach to progressive music. From the city of Barcelona, they belonged to the catalan school of prog-rock called also "Rock Laieta" together with bands like ICEBERG, FUSIOON, COMPANYIA ELECTRICA DHARMA or GOTIC, which was characterized by leaning more towards jazz-rock, in contrast to the other main spanish school from Andalucia which leaned more towards flamenco with bands like TRIANA, IMAN CALIFATO INDEPENDIENTE, CAI or ALAMEDA.
The band was formed in 1976 by composer and multi-instrumentalist Joan Albert AMARGOS, who teamed with bassist Carles BENAVENT who had played in Maquina! and who would later on gain international fame as bassist for spanish guitar master Paco De Lucia and also for playing with Chick COREA. Actually nearly all the ex-members from the '71 lineup of MAQUINA! were recruited for MUSICA URBANA but two of them keyboardist Enric HERRERA and guitarist Emili BALERIOLA quit after some rehearsals, the remaining members being BENAVENT, guitarist Lluis CABANACH and drummer Salvador FONT. The place of second keyboardist was filled in the first album by Lucky GURI from BARCELONA TRACTION but in the form of collaboration, not listed as a real band member.
MUSICA URBANA released 2 magical instrumental albums, both of them masterpieces in my opinion. The self-titled debut from 1976 is already very special with its mix of jazz-rock and spanish traditional music, with dense multi-intrumentation including wind instruments and castanets, the folklorical hand-percusion instrument played by flamenco female dansers.
The second album Iberia from 1978 is even more unique, with a lot of contemporary classical music, some big band music elements and again a very varied multi-instrumentation, making it an amazing listening experience even if one may wonder if this can be called prog-"rock" after all, maybe "prog-classical-fusion" would be a better term since there is not much rock in it. In this album guitarist Lluis CABANACH was replaced by Jordi BONELL and two new members Matthew SIMON and Jaume CORTADELLAS joined on wind instruments.
Serious stuff, really worth checking out, this band will delight those proggers who appreciate a highly eclectic approach to fusion with strong classical music influences.

Band leader Joan Albert Amargós was a classically trained musician and after the Musica Urbana prog adventure in the mid 70's his career has been dedicated to contemporary classical music, mainly as composer and as arranger for many artists. His "Northern Concerto for Recorder and Orchestra" was nominated for the 2007 Grammy in the category of Best Composer of Contemporary Music.

But in 1975 he was 25 years old and the music world around his generation was Prog and he wanted to have his own take at it, so he set to assemble a supergroup (within the limited scope of the local spanish scene, that is) to play the ultimate Fusion, a real blend of Jazz, Rock and Classical music. He recruited 5 ex-members of Maquina!, one of the most acclaimed Catalan bands in the early 70's, but keyboardist Enric Herrera and guitarist Emili Baleriola quitted after a few rehearsals, while bassist Carles Benavent (who would later play with Chick Corea and extensively with Paco De Lucia), guitarist Lluis "Luigi" Cabanach and drummer Salvador Font stayed for the project. Amargós was a multi-instrumentalist and a very fine keyboardist himself but in order to get everything right he also recruited the great pianist Lucky Guri from Barcelona Traction as guest for their debut album and live tours.

Musica Urbana fused Jazz-Rock with traditional Spanish music and Classical music and quickly became regarded as the most serious and professional catalan band of the time. The album cover already gave some hints with excerpts from the scores of several operas and zarzuelas, but there is also a lot of genuine electric Jazz-Rock in here as well. The instrumentation is dense, with assorted keyboards, winds, strings, clavinet and the distinctive castanets, the hand percussion instrument played by flamenco female dancers, played here by Amargós sister Aurora which enhance the spanish feel. The result is a highly eclectic type of Jazz-Rock with strong Classical music influences, played with outstanding skill. Their virtuosism is not shown via ultra-fast scales or solos but by the precision and deep musicality they constantly display and the thoroughness of the arrangements.

All the compositions are by Amargós except one track "Font" by bassist Carles Benavent, and all of them are amazing, with similar spirit although each one has its personality, full of tempo changes, fills and breaks, shifting from energetic electric Jazz-Rock to gentle Classical atmospheres to mediterranean popular music.

This is a Fusion masterpiece and I have no doubts in giving it the top rating.

Their 2nd and last album Iberia is even more eclectic with an even stronger contemporary Classical music component, some big-band music and what we could call film-music, another masterpiece in my opinion even if still more detached from conventional prog-rock.

Peter Roar & Lucky Guri - 1972 - We Are Digging The Beatles

Peter Roar & Lucky Guri
We Are Digging The Beatles

01. Let It Be 1:21
02. Strawberry Fields Forver 3:52
03. The Fool On The Hill 2:37
04. Ticket To Ride 3:33
05. The Long And Winding Road 2:39
06. When I'm 64 2:38
07. Here, There And Everywhere 2:57
08. A Hard Day's Night 4:40
09. Norwegian Wood 3:40
10. All My Loving 2:52
11. And I Love Her 6:50

Banjo – Miguel Garriga, Oriol Carreras
Bass – Carles Benavent
Drums – Salvador Font
Guitar – Max Sunyer
Piano - Organ – Lucky Guri
Tenor / Soprano Saxophone - Clarinet – Peter Roar
Tenor Saxophone – Tomás González
Trombone – Ricardo Solís
Trumpet – Carlos Avallone, Ricard Gili

In 1972 Peter Roar ( saxophone ), Lucky Guri (piano), Carles Benavent (bass), Max Sunyer (guitar) and Salvador Font (drums) join him to record one of the most curious records I've seen in a long time. It is a series of versions of themes of the Beatles in jazz key . Shortly after it went on sale, the record label of The Beatles claiming copyright and elepé had to be withdrawn from the market. This fact transformed the disc into a true collector's item!

"In 1972, the renowned jazz pianist, Lucky Guri, was able to record a record of Beatles song versions far from mythification and legend, when the four of Liverpool were still alive. Taking as reference jazz and accompanying a luxury training (Carles Benavent, Salvador Font and Max Sunyer, among others), this is a pioneering work in the versioning songs of the Beatles. In addition, different circumstances had made We are digging the Beatles virtually unpublished until today. Now it is totally updated, remastered and with the respective notes and anecdotes . "

In the conversation that has maintained Àlex and Carles Benavent with the means present has stood out that We are digging the BeatlesIt was sold for two weeks in 1972, quickly retiring due to rights problems. Therefore, this reissue can almost be considered as an important novelty of young artists who forty years later are world-renowned and with an important professional career .

coverIn Lucky Guri, he resolved a doubt that he planned among all those attending on the recording of the disc, thanking the trust that Àngel Fàbregas put in these young talents , this is how it was possible to publish an innovative and pioneering album for that - we can say so far by this time; Max Sunyer has wanted to emphasize that many instrumental productions with versions of the Liverpool group are unknown, and less in the rhythm of Jazz, Big Band, Dixieland, ...

The selection of the songs, as shown in the cover of the album where the different albums of the Beatles are selected from a trunk, was given by Peter Roar and Lucky Guri, as Lucky himself explained: "the cover was made in the Floresta where there were many common hippies at that time. "

Despite being a record of versions, the artists present have wanted to emphasize the great freedom that they had at the time of recording, because each of them could give the best of himself. Giving the record a great personality .

The reissue of this album is part of the process that Picap launched a couple of years ago with the acquisition of the EDIGSA and PDI catalogs in order to recover the historical musical memory of the country; adapting it to the new technologies, making possible the acquisition and distribution at the physical, digital, national and international levels .

Hear it! Monster Forgotten Jazz & Progressive Spanish Underground Scene LP Having a look to the Picture sleeve, seems like a bad joke, but what a surprise hidden behind, was a serious jazz project with the Guitarist Max Sunyer (Vertice, Tapiman, Iceberg..) the bass-guitar Carlos Benavent (Crack, Maquina, Musica Ubana..) drums Salvador Font (Maquina..) and finally Peter Roar (Peter Rohr) Saxo in Maquina and Lucky Guri with a long moog-piano-keyboards history on his back (New Jazz Trio). 11 Beatles’ classics played as a jazz Jam-session.