Jemeel Moondoc | Arthur Williams | Roy Campbell Jr. | Mark Hennen | William Parker | Rashid Bakr | Muntu Recordings | No Business Records

MUNTU RECORDINGS 3CD BOX + Book

The digipack contains a 115 pages book with 3 essays written by Ed Hazell and Jemeel Moondoc about Jazz Lofts Era in New York City, the Black Artists Movement and musical environment, many beautiful photos, original posters, complete Muntu sessionography etc.

CD 1: MUNTU ENSEMBLE / First Feeding 1. “First Feeding” 5’09” 2. “Flight (From The Yellow Dog)” 13’57” 3. “Theme For Milford (Mr. Body & Soul)” 20’37” * Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone * Arthur Williams – trumpet * Mark Hennen – piano * William Parker – bass * Rashid Bakr – drums * All compositions by Jemeel Moondoc (ASCAP). * Recorded April 17, 1977 at Bob Blank Studios, New York City. * Originally released in 1977 on Muntu Records 1001. * Originally published by Moon-Jem Publishing Co. in 1977 * Photo on CD and on the cover of the box by T. Tashijan

First Feeding is dedicated to: CECIL TAYLOR, SAM RIVERS, JIMMY LYONS, ANDREW CYRILLE, MILFORD GRAVES, BILL DIXON and RASHIED ALI whose feedings have been vital to the growth of this music.

CD 2: JEMEEL MOONDOC & MUNTU / The Evening Of The Blue Men 1. “The Evening Of The Blue Men, Part 3 (Double Expo)” 21’02” 2. “Theme For Diane” 19’39” Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone Roy Campbell Jr. – trumpet William Parker – bass Rashid Bakr – drums * All compositions by Jemeel Moondoc (ASCAP). * Recorded March 30, 1979 live at Saint Marks Church in New York City by Peter Kuhn of Big City Records. * Originally released in 1979 on Muntu Records 1002. * Originally published by Moon-Jem Production Publishing & Enterprising Co. in 1979 * Photo on CD by Anko C. Weirenga * “The Evening Of The Blue Men” is dedicated to Diane Moondoc.

CD 3: MUNTU / Live At Ali’s Alley * “Theme For Milford (Mr. Body and Soul)” 36‘35“ * Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone * William Parker – bass * Rashid Bakr – drums * Composition by Jemeel Moondoc (ASCAP). * Recorded April 20, 1975 live at Ali’s Alley * Previously unreleased session.

Limited edition of 1000 copies!

I will not say that I have all of alto saxophonist’s Jemeel Moondoc’s albums, but close enough, with the exception of his earlier albums, released on his own Muntu label. Now, these albums are available again in a great triple CD-box, and that’s great news.The box comes with a great booklet of more than 100 pages, with a short overview of the “loft” scene in New York in the seventies, an essay by Jemeel Moondoc, a detailed overview of the music on the three albums, and a complete sessionography. Despite its limited number of recordings, the band stayed together for quite a while, with different line-ups, but still with the same rhythm section of William Parker and Rachid Bakr. The band had also some later recordings (New York Live! (1980), The Intrepid Live In Poland (1981), The Athens Concert (1982)), with Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet. Moondoc kept playing with William Parker until now, in various line-ups and bands.

Although Moondoc clearly is the leader of the band, his main focus seems to be the coherence of the band’s sound, rather than just him playing with a rhythm section. The music consists of multi-layered improvisations in which anything could happen,

Muntu Ensemble – First Feeding (1977) “First Feeding” is possibly the most interesting discovery, with Arthur Williams on trumpet and Mark Hennen on piano, because these two other musicians do not show up in any of the later recordings. The three pieces are anchored in recognizable themes, but are otherwise long improvisational work-outs. Williams’ tone on trumpet is warm and wild, Hennen’s piano playing is pounding and extravagant, in the Cecil Taylor style. Moondoc gives lots of space to the other musicians in the three pieces, but especially on the long “Theme For Milford (Mr. Body & Soul)”, and although is playing is excellent, I really would have wanted to hear him more. But the whole thing would fall to pieces if it wasn’t so tightly held together by Parker and Bakr, who conserve the unity of the pieces, even if they let go of the rhythm and tempo once in a while. Both also get their own moment in the spotlight in the second part of the last track. The great thing about the album is its wonderful taste of the seventies: you sense the joy and the enthusiasm of the new musical possibilities that are being opened through free playing. It lacks some of the instrumental discipline we have come to know nowadays even in free playing, but it is so full of expansiveness and musical liberation that it is fun.

listen to Flight (From The Yellow Dog)

Jemeel Moondoc & Muntu – The Evening Of The Blue Men (1979) This line-up is possibly the best of the Muntu line-ups, with Moondoc on alto, Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet, William Parker on bass, and Rashid Bakr on drums. From the book you can learn that pianist Hennen and Moondoc drifted apart musically, that the alto saxophonist wanted more openness in his music. William Parker introduced Roy Campbell to the band, when Arthur Williams could no longer play and tour, like he had introduced Bakr to Moondoc many years before.

The sound quality of this live recording is a little less than on the first album, but the music is stellar. Starting with a long meandering theme, the pieces quickly folds into a free boppish mode, with Moondoc’s playing full of confidence, and joy. The interaction with Campbell is fun. In Moondoc’s own words about Campbell: “He’s got these huge ears, he can hear shit, easily. He not only hears it right away, he can interpret it right away. He can put it right back at you. That was easy, so wonderful”. And this chemistry is almost palpable on this album. Campbell goes deep in his ensuing solo, which is followed by a Bakr and a Parker solo, before re-uniting for the theme. The second piece, “Theme For Diane”, is a slow and open-ended bluesy piece, which shows Moondoc’s sensitive side, a great context for Campbell to let us hear his bell-clear moaning sounds in response: brilliant. Again, to Moondoc’s credit, he gives ample space to the entire band, but he ends the piece is one of the saddest modes imagineable.

listen to Evening Of The Blue Men

Muntu – Live At Ali’s Alley (1975) The third album brings a reduced line-up, with Moondoc on alto, Parker on bass, and Bakr on drums. The performance was recorded in Rashied Ali’s loft : Ali’s Alley, and was never released before. The great thing about the trio format is that we now get the chance to fully appreciate Moondoc’s playing. Although free in spirit, you can hear his natural sense of melody and his boppish background. The most incredible thing is his sense of focus: the piece is thirty-six minutes long, but he can carry the entire improvisation without moving too far away from its original concept, which he keeps exploring with varying levels of intensity, sensitivity and power, without falling back on automatisms.

This is a lengthy review, but the CD box is worth it. The music itself is not always of the highest level, because Moondoc is not the great innovator in jazz nor the most incredible sax-player, but the nature of the music, the historical context, and the unbelievable quality and dedication with which No Business offered this music back to the world, make this already now one of the most recommended albums of the year. Stef Gijssels

 

3 CD Box Set + Book version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

€ 40.00
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6 thoughts on “Jemeel Moondoc | Arthur Williams | Roy Campbell Jr. | Mark Hennen | William Parker | Rashid Bakr | Muntu Recordings | No Business Records

  1. Made up of then-young improvisers who would become better known, Muntu could be described as one of the supergroups of New York’s so-called Loft Era; if the self-aggrandizing term wasn’t antithetical to free music. This handsomely packaged set collects three CDs of the band in different configurations plus a 115-page soft-cover book with a Muntu sessionography and essays on the band, the Black Arts Movement and the Loft Era. Of course this would be mere pretty packaging if the sounds didn’t live up to the hype. Careful listening reveals that Muntu began well and only improved. Only its members’ other projects forced it to dissolve.

    Every track here includes the band’s core members: leader and chief composer alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr. CD3 is a newly unearthed trio session from 1975; CD2 from 1979 is where trumpeter Roy Campbell joins Moondoc, Parker and Bakr; while CD1 is a quintet date with trumpeter Arthur Williams and pianist Mark Hennen plus the core three. While the third disc, featuring a 36½-minute run through of the saxophonist’s “Theme For Milford” is historically interesting, Muntu’s substance is defined on discs one and two.

    Parker and Bakr are well-coordinated in their roles on the 1975 date, as the drummer exposes clinking rim shots, cymbal pops and clattering bells while the bassist’s rasgueado and walking evolve in double counterpoint. Unfortunately Moondoc isn’t as convincing. Sluicing timbres downwards and launching altissimo runs upwards he appears to be attempting to play both parts in a composition that calls for front-line counterbalance. At points his line seems to leech onto “A Love Supreme”; elsewhere his timbre squeezes reference Ornette Coleman’s early style. Oddly, before the piece ends with reed-biting cries and flattement, it sounds as if he’s quoting “Stranger in Paradise”.

    Suggestions of Coleman’s pace-setting quartet are still present two years later when the five-piece Muntu tackles “Theme For Milford”. But with Williams’ trumpet and Hennen’s piano available for contrast the performance is poised and confident. Passing the theme between the horns, Williams plays moderato while Moondoc chimes in with tremolo slurs and honking trills. When the saxophonist turns to glossolalia and note undulations, the trumpeter’s dirty, triplet-laden whines correspond perfectly. Also notable are staccato crackles from Parker. Making the most of his space, Hennen begins with near-prepared-piano pumps than accelerates to jagged runs and rhythmic chording. “Flight (From The Yellow Dog)” is more of the same. Drum rolls, ruffs and rebounds; pounding piano keys; slurry tattoos from the trumpeter; stop-time bass work; and broken-octave reed slithering characterize it. Contrapuntally organized, Williams makes his most characteristic statement here with soaring brays or air pushed almost soundlessly through his horn.

    Lacking a chordal instrument, the 1979 quartet with Campbell still produces a sound that is more textured than anything the band had yet created, especially on “The Evening Of The Blue Men, Part 3 (Double Expo)”. Bakr’s clattering cymbals and bass drum pops almost take on bop coloration while Parker counters with wild spiccato sawing. Moondoc masticates his reed into multiphonics alongside Campbell high-pitched theme variations. The band had also evolved to a point where the ballad “Theme For Diane” is treated with appropriate muted tenderness. A smooth trumpet obbligato decorates the saxophonist’s ornamental line, followed by an understated bass solo.

    Bakr and Parker’s high-calibre work quickly drew the attention of pianist Cecil Taylor and both joined the Taylor Unit. Eventually Muntu dissolved. Since that time Moondoc gigs internationally as a sideman and with his own groups. Parker has become one of the most visible experimental players with a variety of projects on the go. Campbell leads his own bands and plays in other ensembles; while Hennen is part of the Collective 4tet. Star-crossed Williams’ heroin addiction and metal illness forced him off the scene, even before Campbell joined Muntu.

    Like many other lesser-known groups, Muntu was a band which epitomized a particular time. Since its deficiencies were circumstantial and economic despite a wealth of talent, the band should have attained lasting fame and financial rewards. It didn’t, but at least this set captures Muntu at its musical heights.

  2. Despite the historical importance of “loft jazz,” the full breadth of improvised music occurring in 1970s New York has yet to be properly assessed. By the time Alan Douglas’s Wildflowers collection was issued on Casablanca at the tail end of the 1970s, only a few lofts remained active and the landscape of self-produced concerts and recordings was entering a lull. In the story told by Douglas’s collection (recorded at Studio Rivbea, the space owned by Sam and Beatrice Rivers), loft jazz was an aesthetic result of the relocation of Chicago (AACM) and St. Louis (BAG) musicians to New York, with a resulting stylistic amalgam of post-Ayler fire music and the spacious compositions of Midwestern black players like Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and Lester Bowie. Bands like the Revolutionary Ensemble (Leroy Jenkins, Jerome Cooper, and Sirone) and Arthur Blythe’s AACM-influenced combos were perfect examples of that. But the reality of this music is a sight more complicated.

    Historically, the Lower Manhattan lofts were a product of cheap rents in former industrial districts, large spaces occupied by artists and musicians beginning in the 1960s and continuing until rents began to skyrocket in the early 1980s. Musician-owned lofts included Charles Tyler’s Brook, Rashied Ali’s Ali’s Alley, Joe Lee Wilson’s Ladies Fort, William S. Fischer’s Environ, and Mike Mahaffay’s Sunrise Studios. Though “loft jazz” generally refers (and rightly) to black self-reliance projects, the contribution of white musicians like Mahaffay, Fischer, Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach and Barry Altschul shouldn’t be overlooked. In the booklet included with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu Recordings, writer Ed Hazell gives a detailed description of this climate in his essays “A Place to Play What We Want: A Short History of the New York Lofts” and “Carved Out of the Hard Dark Ebony of Africa: The Story of Jemeel Moondoc and Muntu.” Hopefully the materials contained in this set’s liners can be expanded into a book-length analysis, which is what this period needs.

    Jemeel Moondoc is one of a number of musicians too frequently left out of the presentation of creative improvised music. After studies with Cecil Taylor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Antioch College in Ohio, the Chicago-born and Boston-bred alto saxophonist relocated to New York in 1972. Along with trumpeter Arthur Williams and pianist Mark Hennen, Moondoc was part of a core group of Antioch associates, also including trumpeter Raphe Malik and drummer Syd Smart, who studied and worked with figures like Taylor and Bill Dixon. On first listen to the music of Moondoc’s Muntu, it strikes one as being out of the Taylor-Ornette Coleman axis rather than aligning itself with the more poised structures of AACM-fed New Yorkers. In addition to Hennen and Williams, the group featured bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr (now returned to his birth name, Charles Downs). The lineup was flexible: Hennen was only present for the first LP, as Muntu was revamped into a pianoless quartet with Roy Campbell, Jr. taking the place of an increasingly ill Williams. When Parker and Bakr were unavailable or, later on, committed to Cecil Taylor’s group, other bassists and drummers sat in. Sometimes Muntu was a trio with Moondoc as the sole lead voice (as represented on disc three of this set); one apparently undocumented lineup also featured violinist Billy Bang (then with Parker in the Music Ensemble). The group self-released two LPs on its Muntu label, First Feeding (1977) and The Evening of the Blue Men (1979), along with live records on Poljazz, Cadence, and Praxis, before dissolving in 1985. With the exception of the Cadence release, New York Live, none of this material has ever been on CD.

    It’s hard not to make a comparison to Taylor’s work on First Feeding, especially on the brief title track. At this stage, Hennen is less blocky and more florid in his dusky exploration of cells (by the time of groups like the Collective Quartet and his work with William Hooker, the Cecil-isms would all but disappear). The fat tonal bricks and hot, slow blasts of sound that Williams unspools are indebted to Dixon, while comparisons with Silva and Cyrille are apt in the initial rustling interplay of cello and percussion. Once the improvisation begins, however, it’s clear that Muntu is its own group. Sections of sound climb over each other and soon become a whirlwind dance, as the rhythms flit and jump in taut angles, Hennen shortening his phrases into stabs around Bakr and Parker’s darting blinks. By the piece’s end, there’s a folksy revision of the theme that makes the front line sound more Ornette-ish than Jimmy Lyons and Dixon might have preferred.
    In “Flight from the Yellow Dog” (named for Antioch’s location, Yellow Springs), the combination of alto acridity and Williams’ slightly bent long tones harks back to Booker Little and Eric Dolphy. Hennen’s massive, ringing right-hand architecture feeds Moondoc’s limber flight, a series of coiled bursts of energy, bitter screams and flat burbles. Bakr is angular, tapping and jabbing the skins amid lightly swirling cymbal work, allowing the front line to build most of the heat in front of a thin, athletic canvas. After a series of strong solos, the ensuing collective improvisation returns to a Taylor-like approach, tufts of brassy screech and yelps shooting back-and-forth over pianistic unit-motifs and Parker and Bakr’s interlocking whorl. Moondoc’s solo on “Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul)” is a youthful stocktaking of his various influences, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy filtered through the lens of Lyons, Ornette, and Charles Tyler. With a penchant for digging in and repeating phrasal slabs, Moondoc takes laconic bits of blues and assembles them into a framework of linear movements and harrowing energy just the right side of explosiveness. Williams is steely and darting with sardonic asides of vibrato-heavy growl, crafting a solo of violence, humor and facility that’s one of the most exciting in his scant discography. Hennen follows with an ocean of action, a romantic maelstrom encompassing both ends of the keyboard, and Parker’s unaccompanied arco and pizzicato work traces a maddening line of ancestry through Paul Chambers and Henry Grimes. Unheard by all but the most obsessive connoisseurs of free music until now, “Theme for Milford” is one of the cornerstone performances of 1970s New York improvisation.

    Muntu’s line-up was always flexible, and during times of unavailability (of a piano) or instability (of Arthur Williams), they soldiered on as a trio. A case in point is the 1975 performance of “Theme for Milford” recorded at Ali’s Alley. The theme is rendered with an insistent lilt, a skeletal work-through of curls and trills that in their naked form bolster the cellular affinity for Taylor’s work. Moondoc’s sweet-and-sour flights, obsessive eddies, blues rondos and spindly elaborations demonstrate what a truly exciting (and underappreciated) soloist he is. Even when his phrases unfurl into cries and acrid squawks, there is an undeniable crispness and warm swing, and Parker’s calloused pluck and Bakr’s percussive kindling are unrelenting. While Moondoc has occasionally recorded in trios, there’s little to compare to this performance, save perhaps for Live at Fire in the Valley (Eremite, 1996, with Jon Voigt and Laurence Cook).

    The classic Muntu lineup, which also appeared on half of New York Live as well as The Intrepid (Poljazz, 1981), is represented in this set by The Evening of the Blue Men, from a concert recording from St. Mark’s Church in 1979. Arthur Williams was out of the group by 1978, and following a European tour with Billy Bang that Hennen did not make, Moondoc restructured Muntu as a quartet with trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. Compared to First Feeding and the Ali’s Alley recording, the rhythm section has markedly increased its weight as well as espousing a post-bop sense of forward motion suggesting Garrison/Jones or a more dangerous Workman/Haynes. On the title piece, Bakr’s press rolls and thick cymbal crash might be closest to what Sinan sounded like with Muntu, albeit with a free-bop fleetness. “Blue Men” combines a ringing, sectional quality suggesting Cecil Taylor with a singsong Ornette vibe. Moondoc is much more fluid in his exhortations, and though his earlier more ragged style is intriguing, such easy confidence is a gas to hear. As he builds into tortured peals and earthy honks, Campbell swoops in with crackling explosions, joining the incision of Clifford Brown and Donald Ayler to the joviality of Don Cherry. Coupled to the triple-time bombs of Bakr, the accompanying shouts of other band members are understandable.
    “Diane” is a dark ballad with echoes of Dolphy’s “Serene” or a Gigi Gryce Jazzlab number, saccharine and elegiac by turns. Moondoc’s solo quotes “Round Midnight” even as he becomes rhythmically free over the tune’s loose, sashaying walk. Campbell is clarion, purring and darting before laying into the material with a sense of bravura à la Lee Morgan. Bass and drums saw and hack away beneath, leading the improvisation to the precipice of squall only to return it to stately iconography. It’s a shame that Evening of the Blue Men received such limited circulation at the time, for it might otherwise have been judged a modern jazz classic.

    Muntu dissolved in the mid-1980s following – ironically – the hiring of Bakr and Parker by Cecil Taylor, and Moondoc retired for nearly a decade as a result. His return to the scene has been sporadic since the 1990s, though usually with interesting and powerful results. Hopefully the resuscitation of these recordings will pave the way for a more permanent return, as well as restoring him to his place in the history of this music. For anyone wanting a clearer picture of loft jazz, or just some undeniably heavy small-group jazz, the Muntu Recordings are essential.–CA

  3. Lithuanian based NoBusiness records has put together a wonderful retrospective on under celebrated saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and his pioneering ensemble Muntu, sumptuously packaged in a three-audio disc plus booklet box set. It’s a bulletin from another era, the late 1970s, a fertile period in free jazz history which has been sparsely documented. The set goes some way to redressing that imbalance, with the 114 page booklet containing erudite essays by Ed Hazell on loft jazz and Muntu, a commentary by Moondoc himself, a gazetteer of New York City lofts, and a Muntu sessionography, copiously illustrated with period black and white photographs.

    Included are Muntu’s first two releases and a third set issued here for the first time. Muntu was an important band. It manifested some of the early activity of free jazz maestro, organizer and bassist William Parker, and his first recorded collaboration with subsequent longtime associate trumpeter Roy Campbell. Furthermore, Muntu also augured the distinguished improvising cooperative Other Dimensions In Music, with identical personnel except for the reed chair. In a bittersweet acknowledgement of the band’s import, Muntu’s time was up when Moondoc lost his rhythm section of Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr to the prestige (and work) of pianist Cecil Taylor, after more than eight years of joint endeavor.

    Originally released on the reedman’s own label, Muntu’s music was little heard in its heyday, although original copies now change hands for ridiculous amounts. At last the music is more widely available, carefully transferred from LP. These guys know what they are doing as the majority of NoBusiness issues are on vinyl, so only occasional clicks and pops betray the source material.

    Muntu’s 1977 debut, First Feeding (Muntu), was a well-recorded studio date. Three pieces in a 39 minute program pass in a collective swirl of dense ensembles, thickened by Mark Hennen’s piano. Together with the cellular keyboard motifs, the simultaneous horn lines of the leader and trumpeter Arthur Williams bear the hallmark of Cecil Taylor’s groups at the time (unsurprising given the recent participation of Moondoc et al in Taylor’s ensembles at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio), particularly in the discursively voiced elegiac themes with their deliciously ragged feel.

    Moondoc’s characteristic blues-drenched, astringent tone was already in place, manifest through soulful alto saxophone outpourings. Williams was talented but troubled and woefully underrepresented on disc. A distinctive voice with a broad tone, he corrals whispers, rasps and places heraldic figures into a heady brew. His solo on “Theme For Milford” astonishes with a series of abrasive middle register growls. Notwithstanding Moondoc’s desire to forge his own sound, this edition of Muntu touched on terrain inspired by Taylor which still remains underexplored.

    Captured in 1979 shortly after a European tour, Evening of the Blue Men (Muntu) showcases a new and more open lineup. Williams has been replaced by Campbell and Hennen’s piano has gone. Consisting of just two side long pieces totaling some 40 minutes, the live recording from NYC’s St Marks Church allows ample space to stretch out. Without piano, Moondoc’s tone sounds lighter and airier, his Ornette Coleman
    influence more to the fore. Campbell’s fluent, slurred legato blends pleasingly with the reedman’s plangent holler. Parker’s prodigious powers of levitation shine through the echoey ambience, entrained with Bakr as a single cohesive unit and confirming Taylor’s wisdom in head hunting them as a pair. “Theme For Diane” is an early entry in an illustrious line of Moondoc dirges, though the repeated buggin’s-turn solo roster might grate with some listeners.

    Previously unreleased, Live At Ali’s Alley is actually Muntu’s earliest recording, predating First Feeding by two years. Reduced to a trio, most likely due to trumpeter Williams problems and lack of a piano, the group loses some of its impact. It’s a demanding listen, consisting of a 36 minute version of “Theme For Milford.” While the head is barely stated, elements surface throughout Moondoc’s lengthy improvisation as he triangulates his path. He starts sprightly and Coleman-ish, but struggles to maintain that level over 20 minutes and the focus has switched to the rhythm section well before he pauses for a duet of rippling strummed bass and accented percussion, which is more about texture and propulsion than melody. A loose retelling of the theme closes out the set. From the applause it sounds as if there were about four people present. Lucky them.

    This lovingly presented set is both historic document and vital music.

  4. The 1970’s were an interesting time for jazz in New York City. Economics and changing tastes in music led to a shuttering of many opportunities for progressive jazz in the city. This led some musicians to get creative and took matters into their own hands, opening their own performance spaces and creating their own record labels. Muntu was a group led by alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc playing open ended free jazz with a rotating cast of musicians during the mid 1970’s to early 1980’s. This was a very interesting three disc set that reissues the two albums recorded by the group and includes an previously unissued live performance from Rashied Ali’s loft Ali’s Alley. Also included is a lengthy book with valuable essays detailing the history and evolution of the band and the Loft Jazz scene in New York in the 1970’s. Disc One has the Muntu album First Feeding with Moondoc on alto saxophone, Arthur Williams on trumpet, Mark Hennen on piano, William Parker on bass and Rashid Bakr on drums. After opening with the short title track, the group performs two lengthy compositions, “Flight (From the Yellow Dog)” and “Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul).” Disc two includes the Muntu album The Evening of the Blue Men, with the group pared back to a quartet with Roy Campbell on trumpet, William Parker on bass Rashid Bakr on drums. This has two long performances, the uptempo “The Evening of the Blue Men, Part 3 (Double Expo)” which builds to an extraordinary and exciting improvisation filled with thrilling energy. The other performance on this album, “Theme for Diane,” takes things in the opposite with a moody and slow building theme developed over the course of a patient and thoughtful improvisation. Disc three shows Muntu pared down even further, with Moondoc with Parker on bass and Bakr on drums, investigating a near forty minute version of “Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul).” This package was a very interesting look at an under-appreciated band and a valuable glimpse into the loft jazz scene of the 1970’s.

  5. Christened with a name that communicates his endearing musical idiosyncrasy, altoist Jemeel Moondoc has followed a career in free jazz quite similar to his peers in its many ups, downs and detours. This revelatory box set tracks the early years of that trajectory and returns the saxophonist’s initial recordings to circulation, two LPs originally released on Moondoc’s Muntu label. A third disc captures the trio version of Muntu live at Ali’s Alley, drummer Rashied Ali’s loft space, and is actually the earliest music on the set.

    Moondoc was a student of Cecil Taylor’s during the pianist’s early-’70s tenures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Antioch College, participating in numerous workshops and performing with various student ensembles. Upon moving to New York, he used those experiences and resulting contacts to quickly hook into the burgeoning loft jazz scene in the city. Among his early colleagues were bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr, who were making names for themselves in similar fashion.

    The first disc in the box comprises the 1977 LP First Feeding and finds the three men in augmented quintet formation with the addition of enigmatic pianist Mark Hennen and the equally obscure Arthur Williams on trumpet. Recorded in a studio, the sound is sharp, though the presence of vinyl sourcing remains audible in places. The group investigates three pieces, cumulatively dedicated to mentors like Taylor, Sam Rivers, Bill Dixon and others.

    The set’s three pieces range from the relative brevity of the opening title invocation to the closing sprawl of “Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul).” The middle piece, “Flight (From the Yellow Dog),” takes flight on a soaring theme hauntingly similar to Moondoc’s much later-composed “You Let Me into Your Life.” What’s most striking is how the music mirrors what’s come after; there’s a “hear it here” first feel to how the four approach collective improvisation, assimilating the advances of Taylor and others like Ornette Coleman. Musicians in the idiom have been doing it ever since with varying degrees of originality and success.

    Of the five players, it’s curiously Hennen who makes the strongest impression. His, by turns ruminative and forceful, suggests an oblique amalgam of Paul Bley and Taylor. Bakr works in both momentum and color, acting as co-conspirator in steering the ebb and flow. Williams makes for a spirited partner with Moondoc on the front line, the two sparring like dueling ptarmigans or wheeling off in airborne acrobatics. Parker’s shining moment comes with an extended bass solo in the final piece, where he practically turns his instrument into firewood with chopping fingers and bow. Together, the five whip quite a glorious controlled racket.

    Roughly two years later, Moondoc booked a revamped Muntu crew for a gig at Saint Mark’s Church, the venue of numerous subsequent free jazz performances, including several incarnations of the venerated Vision Festival. Roy Campbell replaces Williams and the piano chair remains vacant. Titled Night of the Bluemen, the subsequent LP split the performance into two halves. The title piece carries the qualifier “Part 3” prompting the natural question, what of parts one and two?

    Sound is a shade cavernous by comparison thanks to the vaulted ceilings of the venue, and Parker suffers most, his furious pizzicato frequently reduced to a muddy aural blur in the ensemble sections. He makes up for it in an arco solo clearly audible in its string-abrading ferocity, spurred by ebullient shouts of encouragement from his employer. The other players are relatively well-served; Moondoc and Campbell are in especially vociferous moods, dancing, darting and diving amidst the churning, surging waves of rhythm. Side B’s “Theme for Diane” traces contrastive ballad contours with comparable passion and cohesiveness.

    Flipping the page back to Muntu in its relative infancy, the third disc’s live shot from Ali’s Alley comprises another rendering of “Theme for Milford” in a single 36 ½-minute slab of largely improvised interplay. Fidelity again is far from perfect, but more than passable. The thrill of hearing the three core members hold forth at one of the pillars of the loft jazz community effectively excuses the somewhat distant positioning of Parker and Bakr in the 35-year-old mix. Moondoc’s mercurial alto sings front and center, reeling off eliding melodic variations against the undulating accompaniment of his partners that occasionally slip in focus but largely stay on point for a full 15-plus minutes. Parker and Bakr occupy much of the remainder of the piece with statements of their own, the latter devising inventive things with what sounds like woodblocks and other ancillary percussion. The modest applause at the end illustrates that times were tough even back then when it came to audience size for these sorts of gigs.

    Muntu suffered a crushing setback as an ensemble when Cecil Taylor ostensibly wooed Parker and Bakr away to fill slots in a new trio. With hindsight, its hard to blame the two men for jumping ship after weighing the prospect and Moondoc doesn’t appear to have harbored any lasting ire, having worked with both men, particularly Parker, in the intervening years. Results of their auspicious meetings are still readily available on labels like Eremite and Cadence Jazz, but Moondoc’s been mostly silent (at least on record) for some time. The arrival of this important and opportune box set will hopefully foster resurgence in attention toward his art and motivate new music-making in the process.

  6. Des saxophonistes à entendre en lofts new-yorkais dans les années 1970, Jemeel Moondoc ne fut peut être pas le plus original, mais fut sans doute le plus flamboyant. Pour se faire une idée, aller entendre les rééditions par le label NoBusiness des deux disques de son Muntu (First Feeding et The Evening of the Blue Man) et un concert enregistré dans le loft de Rashied Ali. Dans le coffret, un livre accompagne les trois disques.

    Dans ce livre, Ed Hazell trace l’histoire de cette ère des lofts et produit même une carte sur laquelle dix-neufs d’entre eux sont indiqués : Artists House d’Ornette Coleman, Studio Rivbea de Sam Rivers, Ali’s Alley de Rashied Ali ou The Brook de Charles Tyler… Après l’histoire, un témoignage : celui de Moondoc en personne, qui raconte dans Muntu : The Essay by Jemeel Moondoc son parcours de musicien (fréquentation de Cecil Taylor à Antioch et premier concert sous le nom de Muntu, composé alors d’Arthur Williams, Mark Hennen, William Parker et Rashied Sinan…).

    Rashid Bakr remplaçant Sinan, la première mouture du groupe peut enregistrer First Feeding en avril 1977. Le quintette déroule ici un free jazz sec : les imprécations de l’alto s’opposent au lyrisme échevelé de la trompette de Williams, duo en déroute créative pour devoir faire aussi face aux clusters d’Hennen : les accords plaqués ne sont plus des accords, mais les commandes actionnées d’un mécanisme de cordes libres. Enveloppée par les interventions d’un piano radical, l’association joue souvent jusqu’en mai 1978.

    Quelques semaines plus tard, un quartette prend la relève : nouveau Muntu dans lequel Parker et Bakr subsistent aux côtés de Moondoc et que le trompettiste Roy Campbell a rejoint. L’enregistrement d’un de ses concerts (St. Marks Church, mars 1979) permettra au saxophoniste d’éditer le deuxième disque du groupe : The Evening of the Blue Men. Ici, une cohésion plus remarquable : l’alto de Moondoc emmène un free davantage attaché au bop qui sied particulièrement à Campbell tandis que Parker ose se faire entendre davantage. Sur Theme for Diane, le discours est, en plus, différent : climatique, flottant, imposant sans être clair dans sa forme, donc altier.

    Jusqu’en 1981, la formation donnera d’autres concerts, tournera au Canada et jusqu’en Pologne – concerts parfois enregistrés et produits. Le troisième et dernier disque, choisit plutôt de revenir à un concert donné en trio par Moondoc, Parker et Bakr, chez Rashied Ali en 1975 : Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul) dans une version longue de trente-cinq minutes et sur laquelle l’alto est clair, presque léger. Alors, le trio met en pratique un art de la concision autrement saisissant : les coups de Bakr se font plus retentissants, l’alto s’amuse de clins d’oeil mélodiques lorsqu’il n’est pas emporté par le courant quand Parker démontre d’un savoir-faire instrumental déjà supérieur sur son duo avec le batteur, à entendre en conclusion.

    En conclusion, retour au livre : historique des séances de Muntu déposé sur papier – neuf années d’activité intense – qui finit en photos : noirs et blancs de souvenirs de concerts donnés en lofts ou à Groningen en 1980, et quelques affiches (de concerts aussi). Pour qui s’intéresse au jazz créatif de l’époque, inutile de dire que ce coffret s’avère indispensable.

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