Muntu Recordings

Featuring: Jemeel Moondoc | Arthur Williams | Mark Hennen | William Parker | Rashid Bakr

Musicians on the recording

Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone
Arthur Williams – trumpet
Mark Hennen – piano
William Parker – bass
Rashid Bakr - drums

Best boxed set of the year 2010 by All About Jazz

Recording track list

CD 1 - MUNTU ENSEMBLE / First Feeding

1. First Feeding Up 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

CD 2 - JEMEEL MOONDOC & MUNTU / The Evening Of The Blue Men

1. The Evening Of The Blue Men, Part 3 (Double Expo) 21:20
2. Theme For Diane 19:39

Jemeel Moondoc – alto saxophone
Arthur Williams – trumpet
William Parker – bass
Rashid Bakr - drums

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

NoBusiness Records NBCD 7-8-9
Release year - 2009
Edition of 1000 copies

Credits and release info

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.

CD1

  • Recorded April 17, 1977 at Bob Blank Studios, New York City
  • Originally released in 1977 on Muntu Records 1001

CD2

  • 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

CD3

  • Recorded April 20, 1975 live at Ali’s Alley
  • Previously unreleased session

Reviews and articles

Clifford Allen - PARIS TRANSATLANTIC

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.

Muntu Recordings - Jemeel Moondoc

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