GRACHAN MONCUR III Evolution (Music Matters)
On his debut album trombonist Moncur leads a star-studded sextet that includes Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Williams. It might have been just another studio date in Englewood Cliffs – the day before JFK’s assassination, in fact - but, to me at least, it’s genuinely astonishing to find so much talent crammed into one place. If “Evolution” was a rock album it would be the work of a supergroup, but in jazz there’s no such hyperbole involved or expected.
Opener “Air Raid” is all Dolphy-esque free-form avant gardening – Hutcherson and Williams would both play on “Out To Lunch” three months hence - maybe even pre-empting some of Miles Davis’ late acoustic work. Refusing to stand still for a moment, it fires off idea after crazy idea, tempo and tension ricocheting off the walls. The title track lumbers like a slow-moving, heavy-breathing creature on the verge of pulling itself out of the primeval ooze onto dry land for the first tentative time, made yet more eerily unsettling by Bob Cranshaw bowing his bass like an overfed cello. “The Coaster” is the least unconventional tune here, with time you can count and regularity in rhythm and melody. Inspired by the Coney Island rollercoaster, it’s still a tricksy, turny thing, with a dusky Eastern tinge to Morgan’s trumpet solo. Even in this relatively conventional setting, Williams breaks the bars up like he’s splitting atoms and, as elsewhere, the timbre of Hutcherson’s vibraphone is delicious, with something mysterious glimmering in every note. As its title suggests, “Monk In Wonderland” has a Thelonious-style mischievousness about it, alternating between passages of bluesy blowing and melodic constructions of Escher-like complexity.
This fine album turns up in appropriately fettled form in Music Matters’ reissue. As ever, it’s pressed on two solid slabs of 45 rpm vinyl, wrapped in a sleeve of thick, glossy cardboard with a gatefold’s worth of evocative session photos. Maybe not in the top rank of Music Matters reissues, there’s a raspiness to the leader’s instrument and McLean’s alto sax that seems uncharacteristic of the sublime sonics presented elsewhere.