JAMEEL MOONDOC ALL-STARS

Live in Paris
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1151

JAMEEL MOONDOC TENTET Live at the Vision Festival
Ayler aylCD-047

One of the most recognizable members of New York’s third generation Free Jazz players from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, alto saxophonist Jameel Moondoc, along with associates like bassist William Parker and trumpeter Roy Campbell, was everywhere during that epoch, usually leading his own band.

Like other non-commercial players though, he seemed to vanish — some said into architecture — shortly afterwards. But he’s been front-and-centre and recording again since the mid-1990s. These two live CDs, made up of his composition and arrangements, show that he still surrounds himself with notable sidemen and plays firmly in the Free Jazz tradition. They also may offer hints for his hiatus.

While both are powerful, swinging freebop sessions, the reason they’re not better — and better organized — can only be attributed to the leader. Furthermore, in each another soloist overshadows Moondoc’s playing — Campbell on LIVE IN PARIS, and, peculiarly enough, guitarist Bern Nix on the other CD.

Although there’s no way you wouldn’t have exceptional playing on any disc featuring Parker, Moondoc and Campbell plus tenor saxophonist Zane Massey and drummer Cody Moffett, the Paris quintet session, recorded in 1999 wears its influences on its sleeve — or maybe CD booklet is more appropriate language.

Just look at the titles “Not Quite Ready for Prime Time”, relates to Ornette Coelman’s band of the 1980s, which incidentally employed Nix, while “One Down, One Up” recalls the John Coltrane composition of the same name. Add sounds influenced by Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler in the 1960s and 1970s and you almost know what the band is going to sound like before it plays. Additionally, with road robin solos on all of the four long pieces — the shortest is almost 12 minutes — you’re reminded of a jam session rather than a festival set.

Running more than 22½ minutes long, “Prime Time” has obviously been set up as a major statement and here, as elsewhere, Campbell takes charge. With the rhythm section operating on low burn in the back and the saxes alternately trilling (Moondoc) or honking (Massey), the trumpet builds up a chromatic solo filled with grace notes. Depressing his valves he uses rubato slurs and gritty buzzes to force his notes even higher, growling all the while, finally vocalizing his output in a bygone Jungle band style. With Moffett on brushes and Parker occasionally breaking up the rhythm with some bandsaw-like multi-string arco scratches, the altoist comes up with a sour-sounding output that allows him to vibrate his split tones inside his horn. That leads all the horns to combine for an adagio line that resembles one of Ayler’s nursery rhyme themes, with both reeds and the brassman sliding and slurring at the end.

“We Don’t” has the same sort of ending and a similar feeling as if Ayler’s ghost — or maybe it’s “Ghosts” — hangs over the proceedings. Reminiscent of those sessions the Ayler brothers did with tenor saxophonist Charles Tyler, Moondoc reverberates notes at his highest range, while the others operate as sort of a Greek chorus around him. Thing is, Campbell is a much more accomplished trumpeter than Don Ayler — a primitive in the best sense of the word — and his fluttering grace notes and half valve glissses add more than mere rhythm to the theme. After playing hide-and-seek with the alto man’s glossolalia, the front line ends up playing dirge-like in unison.

Massey, an on-again-off-again Campbell associate, recreates Shepp’s buzzsaw, slipping reed tone on the almost 15-minute One Down, One Up”, while Parker, a bit muffled in these live circumstances, walks the four-square beat as if he was the recently rediscovered Henry Grimes. Using triplets, Campbell again brings the most attention to himself, hitting high notes one after another, in the early Louis Armstrong if not Cat Anderson range. A foot tapper more than a New Thing screed, this one and the other tunes seem to mirror Shepp’s later days, when swing appeared to be more appealing than politics to Shepp. However on “HiRise”, Moondoc sounds like a weird combination of Charlie Parker and Coleman.

Appropriately subtitled the Jus Grew Orchestra, Moondoc’s Tentet features a rhythm section of Nix, Boston bassist John Voigt and Matthew Shipp/Tim Berne associate Gerald Cleaver on drums. Trombonist Steve Swell and Tyrone Hill, trumpeter Nathan Breedlove and baritone saxophonist Michael Marcus are on board along with Campbell and Massey.

A rough-and-ready band that sounds as if it could have use a couple more rehearsals, the versatile drummer, subtle guitarist and bottom-feeding baritone saxophone drive the performance towards the R&B heft of something like Ray Charles’ or James Brown’s early big bands.

“The Blue Dog - Blues for Earl Cross” — named for the late New Thing trumpeter who worked with Shepp and altoist Noah Howard — could easily have been played by a rocking large aggregation of the 1950s and 1960s. Impelled by a pedal point bottom from Voigt, who plucks with enough strength to make you think he’s playing an electric bass; a steady shuffle rhythm from Cleaver; and constant emphasis from the bari, Moondoc’s conduction here seems to take the form of vocal encouragement. Meanwhile Nix, who maintains a distinctive Freddie Green-like pulse throughout, finger picks like a jump band bluesman when he solos. His amp-buzzing chords call to mind T-Bone Walker, as elsewhere on the track one of the trombonists slurs and slides and the other double stops notes through his mute like a more restrained Quentin “Butter” Jackson. Core role is taken up by one of the trumpets — probably Campbell — whose growling grace notes slip up the scale and resolve themselves at times as “Rhapsody in Blue”, and other times as the sort of rubato trumpeting Marcus Belgrave would have done with the Charles band. With the brass section allayed against the reed section, you wonder if the hornmen are doing de rigeur fancy footwork as well.

“Variations of a Riff” features the entire band blowing over Marcus’ simple, repetitive vamp as one trumpeter (Campbell again?) explodes from its centre, caterwauling plunger tones as if he was Cootie Williams with his 1940s jump band. Furthermore, Massey’s solo seems to unite the honking R&B and more restrained Cool school side of Lester Young.

Running straight from its end into “Cosmic Tabernacle”, the last tune features dissonant sounding horns topped by Moondoc’s fruity alto back in Ayler’s spiritual territory again, with Cleaver’s accents suggestion African as well as African-American praise music. More sway than swing, the penultimate minutes of the piece are taken up by a cacophonous crescendo of horn licks as the rhythm section holds steady trying to pilot the ship back to A.

Moondoc’s obviously sincere efforts to find the link in between Sun Ra and James Brown is ultimately frustrated by a sloppy disconnect in the arrangements. Equally frustrating is the underutlization of Hill, a present day Arkestra sideman, and Swell, one of the most versatile ‘bone men extant. The Tentet may have “jus grew”, but organization is needed as much as expansion.

Appreciators of Moondoc’s gifts and those whose tastes run to the approachable side of Free Jazz will find much to like on these two sessions. Yet with the wealth of talents involved, it seems that so much more could have been attained.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Paris: 1. HiRise 2. Not Quite Ready for Prime Time 3. We Don’t 4.One Down, One Up

Personnel: Paris: Roy Campbell (trumpet); Jemeel Moondoc (alto saxophone); Zane Massey (tenor saxophone); William Parker (bass); Cody Moffett (drums)

Track Listing: Vision: 1. Opulent Continuum 2. The Blue Dog - Blues for Earl Cross 3. Variation of a Riff 4. Cosmic Tabernacle

Personnel: Vision: Roy Campbell, Nathan Breedlove (trumpets); Steve Swell, Tyrone Hill (trombones); Jemeel Moondoc (alto saxophone,); Zane Massey (tenor saxophone); Michael Marcus (baritone saxophone); Bern Nix (guitar); John Voigt (bass); Gerald Clever (drums)