Trombonist Grachan Moncur III recorded two albums of his own compositions for Blue Note in the 1960s and appeared as a sideman on two by Jackie McLean, which also featured his writing. Three albums on other labels in the early ’70s were followed by . . . virtually nothing: a handful of sideman recordings but no new tunes. Moncur was an after-the-fact transitional figure: a composer who integrated elements of free jazz into a traditional format.
This transition still hasn’t been successfully completed, which is why these new recordings of such vintage Moncur as “Love and Hate” and “Frankenstein” remain so provocative. Moncur’s trademarks as a writer were free harmonic movement and a low center of gravity, and arranger Mark Masters’s understanding of this is reflected in the instrumentation, which includes French horn, baritone saxophone, and two trombones, but no piano. If “Monk in Wonderland” begins a little glossy, it ceases to matter once altoist Gary Bartz catches fire. Billy Harper, Gary Smulyan, and Tim Hagans are also blistering, and Moncur’s unhurried spots are surprisingly deft for a man whose absence from the scene was blamed on embouchure problems. Fittingly, the program ends with “Sonny’s Back,” written by Moncur to celebrate Rollins’s return from the bridge in 1962. Although Moncur’s own comeback doesn’t figure to generate as much publicity, it’s good news indeed.