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Jemeel Moondoc and Connie Crothers
The Zookeeper's House
Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene
THE FIERY sonics of Chicagoan alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc revel in true jazz freedom and they have at last been recognised by a series of finely wrought albums on the Relative Pitch label.
Moondoc chose jazz and the blues as an alternative to a career as an architect and played in James Tatum's Blues Band before hearing the free and incendiary sounds of pianist Cecil Taylor that transformed his musical life.
He founded the Ensemble Muntu with bassist William Parker and later the Jus' Grew Orchestra, but such revolutionary musical formations were never going to be high earners and Moondoc's revolutionary, innovative music never gained the exposure it deserved.
He recorded the duo album Two in December 2011 with long-time musical sister Connie Crothers in her Brooklyn loft and there's a moving empathy between the musicians which echoes all through the album and its six improvisations and two ballads, You Let Me into Your Life by Moondoc and Deep Friendship by Crothers.
Moondoc's raw, impassioned tone tears at the heart and his tender melodic narrative rings like a love song of the lonely, while Crothers's keys answer his every testimony, making a palaver of musical flesh and spirit and a deeply affecting expression of private feeling expressed through sound.
Recorded in Brooklyn, the 2013 album The Zookeeper's House has Moondoc in trio, quartet and quintet settings. Greene and drummer Newman Taylor Baker play on all tracks with pianist Matthew Shipp on two and trombonist Steve Swell and trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr on two others.
It's a truly burning album, one of Campbell's last, and the record is dedicated to his “life and spirit.” On Little Blue Elvira, his opening chorus is full of horn-bursting passion and it's followed by Moondoc's solo, every note a surprise above Greene's heartbeat bass.
Swell grabs Moondoc's tune by the throat and Baker's drums throb with invention on it, while, on the Alice Coltrane track Ptah the El Daoud, Moondoc plays with a felicitous fluency, Swell growls out his message and the marvellous Campbell flies with the pitch of his notes.
The enigmatic title tune is an outing for Moondoc's startling vitality, grounded by Shipp's chiming foundation and One for Monk and Trane swings with a joy inspired by the two masters, with a jubilant and buoyant Moondoc and Shipp comping as if he were back in the age of bop.
In 2015, Moondoc made another duo album, Cosmic Nickelodeon, with bassist Hilliard Greene, ex-confrere of pianists Taylor and Don Pullen and horn men Charles Gayle and Dave Douglas. From his first tunnelling notes of opener Blues for Katie, Greene digs deep.
His plangent, declamatory notes carry through into Spiritual Medley, where both musicians' roots are proudly and pulsatingly asserted, while Moondoc's wailing phrases explore The Founding of a Lost World on a record of sheer discovery by two ardent founders of sound.
At long last these recordings are giving Moondoc the exposure that his incandescent brilliance has merited for so long.
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