Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grachan Moncur III - Some Other Stuff

This album feels like traveling through a nebula. Every piece is very subtle and is composed to provide freedom to the great musicians involved. It's a pity that all of the avant-garde is so frequently swept together under that one label; this is not stream of consciousness free-blowing but very tentative probing compositional playing that constantly flirts with atonality, but uses it to great artistic effect. Everyone involved is a great and highly skilled player; Grachan's sidemen are Wayne Shorter, Herbe Hancock, Cecil McBee and Tony Williams, or, in other words, three fifths of Miles Davis' next quintet, and one of the most explorative bassists out there. For those who think of freer music as a place for unrefined players who scream without nuance, this album would be a great rebuttal.

After the stellar and less challenging album Evolution, Grachan once again proves himself a brilliant pacer of albums. After the spacey, almost creepy, opener Ngostic, he pulls back to the catchy post-bop swinger Thandiwa, and then moves a bit farther out to the swinging but quite tonally malleable piece The Twins, and concludes with a drum feature, Nomadic. Tony Williams definitely deserves his chance to explore here, although this track may be the hardest to get into. Nomadic plays delicately with rhythm, tonality, and huge amounts of nearly silent space. It will never offend the ears, but it will boggle the mind. The Twins segues from moments of tension and unclear rhythm, to superb sections of walking bass and swinging drums without the listener being able to pinpoint the moment when the change occured. I do not know how pre planned this piece was, but in any case this piece is a great feat of collective musicianship with so many different "movements" and moods that it outdoes other free jazz tracks of twice and even four times its length in terms of diversity and mutual respect amongst the musicians.

This is Moncur's best album, and while it may not accommodate on the first listen as well as Evolution, this quintet proves just how necessary the avant-garde was to breath life and creativity back into jazz at this time. - Gerrit R. Hatcher


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