Music News

Grachan Moncur III

The Muses -- daughters of Zeus whom the ancient Greeks credited with inspiring artists of the day -- were a contrary bunch, as capable of cruelty as of kindness. So it is with music (and, by association, the music business), which gives and takes with a whimsical disregard that's perfectly in keeping with the goddesses from whom the form's name is derived.

Consider the case of Grachan Moncur III. While still in his twenties, this gifted trombonist helped make some of the most brilliant post-bop jazz of the early '60s. Rather than build on these achievements, however, he slowly faded from view. During the past three decades, he's gotten the opportunity to issue just two albums under his own name, with the most recent of them -- Soul Connection -- entering the marketplace way back in 1985. But as is made clear by Mosaic Select, a three-CD, limited-edition boxed set, his early work makes up in quality what his discography lacks in quantity.

The sounds collected here are culled from Moncur's two most gorgeous platters -- 1963's Evolution and 1964's Some Other Stuff -- as well as four discs he made under an umbrella held by saxophonist Jackie McLean, another tremendous player who's never truly received his due. Also on hand are a slew of instrumentalists with familiar names, including vibist Bobby Hutcherson, drummer Roy Haynes and trumpeter Woody Shaw. Even more impressive are the Miles Davis collaborators who contribute to Stuff: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock and percussion prodigy Tony Williams. No wonder everything here sounds so strong, so smart.

Yet even in this august company, Moncur stands out. Songs such as the eerie, sprawling "Ghost Town" (on disc one) and the atmospheric "Gnostic" (disc three) mark him as a composer of note, and his playing is remarkably assured and varied throughout. In the wrong hands, the trombone can be lumbering and overbearing, but on "The Coaster," a swinging track from disc two, he shows that it can be nimble and evocative, too.

Did the muses desert Moncur shortly after he took this particular ride? Hard to say. But they were certainly his friends for a while, and thank goodness the tape that's reproduced on Mosaic Select was rolling when he was in their presence.