Grachan Moncour – New Africa (BYG/Actuel, 1969)
New Africa came after Moncour’s brief stint with with Blue Note and was recorded in Paris, with the leader on trombone, Alan Silva on bass, Roscoe Mitchell on alto saxophone and piccolo, Sunny Murray on drums, Dave Burrell on piano, and Archie Shepp sitting in on the final selection, playing tenor saxophone.
“The New Africa Suite” leads off and takes up most of side one (many of the BYG releases are being re-issued as budget vinyl as well as compact disc.) The suite begins with a slow meditative groove from piano, bass and drums which sets the tone for the first section until Moncour enters and the tempo picks up. The music swings pretty hard, belying the avant-garde reputations of the players. Moncour solos at length over a swinging tempo, with Murray, Burrell and Silva laying down a nice swinging carpet for him to improvise over. Mitchell enters as Moncour’s solo ends and he’s blowing some sweet, swinging alto which he gradually takes more out as his solo develops. Moncour then re-enters near the end of the suite with Mitchell switching to piccolo. The deep sound of the trombone and the sweet sound of the piccolo make for a very interesting combination. The suite comes to an abrupt end almost as if it was still a work in progress.
Ominous piano chords and slurred trombone usher in the second tune “Space Spy.” Mitchell solos in a fractured manner over an unsteady beat and the whole feel of the music is like walking through a funhouse where all is not as it seems. Burrell’s dark flavored chords predominate the music invoking the paranoia of the Cold War.
For “Exploration” we leave the world of espionage behind but stay in outer space. Burrell begins with a fragmented opening backed by Murray playing a skittish and nervous rhythm on the drums. The horns come in collectively improvising as Murray increased the pace. Roscoe Mitchell steps outside the spacecraft for a very exploratory solo, after which the rest of the band returns to the fray, improvising together before Burrell and Murray bring everybody back to earth stating the dark-toned theme before ending the tune.
The record ends with “When” with Archie Shepp joining the group on tenor saxophone. Moncour enters the music swinging and strutting, assured and confident. Shepp joins in, keeping his tone clean at first, he begins to strut his stuff as well throwing in some squeaks – if this song were a person, it would be strutting down the street with it’s head held high and it’s chest out! Shepp then takes the tune way out with some very Pharoah Sanders like wails as Murray prods him to dig in. Trombone and tenor end the tune with a collective duet over the soaring rhythm section.
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