March 14, 2005
With Malice Toward None
IPO IPOC 005
GRACHAN MONCUR III
Two generations of interconnected trombonists/composers get their due on these multi-faceted tributes which not only showcase some of their newer compositions plus their established standards but figuratively stick a bone slide into the eye of the neo-cons.
Tom McIntosh (born 1927) and Grachan Moncur III (born 1937) were respected writers and soloists in the 1950s and 1960s (McIntosh) and 1960s and 1970s (Moncur) with a clutch of big names. McIntosh either played with or wrote compositions for James Moody, the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet and Dizzy Gillespie; Moncurs best-known associations were with the Jazztet, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp.
Both are East Coasters and both brought a variety of sophisticated colors to their compositions using different instrumentation than the standard sax/brass/rhythm section of hard bop combo. But like many other non-standard advances — and perhaps as a way to insist on the novelty of orchestral arrangements for certain big bands associated with large civic organizations — the subtle styling of folks like these two, George Russell, Gigi Gryce and Golson himself, has been conveniently forgotten. Interesting arrangements werent limited to so-called dreaded West Coast Jazz.
Both trombonists have had a very low profile recently. Lured to Hollywood during the jazz recession at the end of the 1960s, McIntosh spent the next two decades as a music director for films and TV. Returning east in the 1990s, he taught at conservatories in New York and Boston and one of his star students, pianist Helen Sung, is featured on a couple of tunes here. This is the first record session ever under McIntoshs name.
Moncur was both luckier and more unfortunate. He recorded frequently in the 1960s, including several sessions under his own name, but by steadfastly holding onto his publishing rights, he was soon estranged from the so-called jazz business. When the jazz recession hit, he concentrated on music education in Newark, N.J., then in the 1990s, recurring dental problems curtailed his playing. Hearing him solo alongside the collection of heavyweights assembled for EXPLORATION, the first album under his leadership since 1977, proves that his chops are back to being as strong as his pen.
WITH MALICE TOWARD NONEs strengths are that it mixes new McIntosh compositions with his classics like The Cup Bearers, MVP and the title tune. But with 13 [!] potential soloists on the different tracks, its weakness is that too many players get their say on too many tunes, sometimes reducing arrangements to an exercise in round-robin soloing. Also the two bonus tracks at the end are merely jam session standards, not new Mac tunes.
One of the paramount achievements here is the more than 16-minute new composition, Ruptures in the Rapture, which recasts My Blue Heaven as a blues. Shifting from a romantic introduction by Sung to moderato, mid-range licks from the horns, it opens up with solos by trumpeter Jimmy Owens and tenor saxophonist Golson. Owens, one of the busiest big band/studio cats, has that rep because he can play almost anything. He demonstrates that here as his bravura output works chromatic line up into the very highest range of the trumpet without losing a scintilla of control, then turns from double-tonguing to growls and mouthpiece kisses.
Golson, who was the teenage best friend of John Coltrane, shows that sheets of sound didnt develop in a vacuum. Here he mixes altissimo squeals and rock bottom snorts that evolve into a cascading waterfall of carefully accented notes. Sly harmonic overtones from vibist Stefon Harris plus rim shots and duple bounces from drummer Ben Perowsky — who usually hangs with the John Zorn crowd — lead to the horns reprising the theme, then combine for a thunderous ending.
Im Out No Hating another new tune is a further contrafact, recasting Please Dont Talk About Me While Im Gone as a Horace Silver-style shuffle. Although young guitarist Bill Washers Barney Kessel-style swing-to-bop guitar lines give the piece shape, its the veterans who really sing. Keyboardist Roger Kellaway, another studio master, improvises a bluesy line that relies on his wide reach and simple, yet effective chording. Coming on like two-tenor duelers of the past, Golson and James Moody push the tune into high gear with the latter showing that he can mix sophistication with the roughhewn lines that preceded rhythm and blues.
Classics like The MVP, originally written as a tribute to Gillespie, move with the proper exuberance on top of a clave-and-woodblock Latin beat from the drummer, the guitarist, Richard Davis on bass and Dizzys former pianist Kenny Barron on the keys. Barron adds flashing accents and overtones that play up the Afro blues that exist in Latin sounds. Meantime, Davis snakes up and down the strings while maintaining the beat, and Owens and Golson create a polyphonic counterline to McIntoshs solo. Lowing as clearly as the past, he ends it with a slight tailgate slur.
Between Owens brassy flourishes and the solid work of all the saxophonists, most of the tunes are enjoyable. But the entire project misses the top rank on some of the other compositions when solo follows solo follows solo.
EXPLORATION fares better, since arranger/conductor Mark Masters gives a new musical face to Moncurs best-known tunes. But Masters, an academic, who has done similar work on the oeuvre of the late trombonist Jimmy Knepper and with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, has a tendency to make things a little too clean and overwrought. He occasionally voices the octet to sound as overbearing as a Stan Kenton big band. Also, like the McIntosh CD, there are sometimes a few too many short solos.
Overall though Moncurs strong writing and playing shine through. For instance When?, first recorded in 1969, here becomes more mainstream than it was initially, with an arrangement that seems to reference MILES AHEAD. Still it provides a showcase for the composers distinctive rubato sliding and stopping.
Moncurs hearty, burry tone also roughs up the chromatic line that is Love and Hate. Behind him, tenor saxist Billy Harper concisely smears out a solo, becoming abstract without being atonal. Rock-solid bassist Ray Drummond trades breaks with Harper, and the piece manages to retain its shape despite what appears to be Masters desire to reconstruct Moncurs lead sheet into a cleaner arrangement. Excursion the one attempt at so-called collective music making fails miserably s well. This mixture of conflicting, accentual patterns with each voice separate but equal in a mishmash of polyharmony, polyphony, polyrhythm and polytonality gives this try at Free Jazz a bad name. Considering none of the players — except maybe drummer Andrew Cyrille — were never really committed to out-and-out experimentation, this admixture confirms their incompatibility to the style.
Much more illustrative of Moncurs compositional gifts are Monk in Wonderland initially recorded in 1963, and the four-part, nearly 10-minute New Africa, another line from 1969. The former replicates in sound the sort of wobbly gait associated with Monks individuality, and is given more depth in its larger ensemble recasting. Cyrille and Drummond never drop a beat in the background, as both baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, who has anchored many New York big bands, and alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, who was a later Miles Davis sideman, turn in characteristic stentorian and systematic solos. Finally the bassist wraps things up with a spectacular display of triple stopping before the head is reprised.
EXPLORATIONs most audacious piece, New Africa again builds on the double stopping strings and cymbal clatter of the masterful bassist and drummer. Key point is the tempered blending of the other horns into a choir, as Harper expresses his Texas roots with eddying curling work out that would have made Booker Ervin proud.
Since theres no other CD under McIntoshs name, WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE accrues added importance and will probably enchant dyed in the wool, sophisticated boppers. Yet its the Moncur session that truly burnishes the other trombonists reputation.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: None: 1. The Cup Bearers*+ 2. MVP# 3, Ruptures in the Rapture^ % 4. Minor Consolidation^ 5. With Malice Toward None%~ 6. Balanced Scales Equal Justice 7. Im Out No Hating+^ 8. Billies Bounce+# 9. Long Ago and Far Away%
Personnel: None: Jimmy Owens (trumpet); Tom McIntosh (trombone); James Moody^ (tenor saxophone and flute); Frank Perowsky*, Benny Golson [except 3, 6] (tenor saxophone); Kenny Barron#, Helen Sung%, Roger Kellaway +(piano); Stefon Harris (vibes); Bill Washer (guitar); Richard Davis [except 6], Buster Williams~ (bass); Ben Perowsky (drums)
Track Listing: Track Listing: Exploration: 1. Exploration 2. Monk In Wonderland 3. Love and Hate 4. New Africa 5. When? 6. Frankenstein 7. Excursion 8. Sonnys Back!
Personnel: Exploration: Tim Hagans (trumpet); Dave Woodley, Grachan Moncur III (trombone); Trombone John Clark (French horn); Gary Bartz (alto saxophone); Billy Harper (tenor saxophone); Gary Smulyan (baritone saxophone); Ray Drummond (bass) Andrew Cyrille (drums); Mark Masters (arranger/conductor)