Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (2002)
Evolution utilizes the excellent front line of Jackie McLean's working group of the early Sixties: McLean on alto sax, Moncur on trombone, and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Extra spice comes from the addition of trumpeter Lee Morgan, while Bob Cranshaw's bass and Tony Williams' drums represent a standard Blue Note "out" rhythm section of the time. Moncur wrote all four pieces, and throughout the whole album exercises admirable control of his all-star unit: this brilliant album is nobody's but his. The Moncur mood prevails from start to finish: his somber and profound compositions set the tone for some uncommonly subdued meditations from McLean and Morgan. Subdued, yes; dull, never.
The only drawback may be Moncur himself. His soloing is generally serviceable, but everyone else is playing over his head on this album, so his deficiencies show a little more than usual. This is particularly true on the opener, "Air Raid," where his solo threatens to spin out of control here and there, but makes it to the finish line. On "The Coaster," on the other hand, he muffs a little, but turns in an engaging effort. Hutcherson, meanwhile,is superb throughout the album. His playing here is closer to his ringing, percussive attack on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch than it is to the more conventional melodicism he deployed on the two companion pieces to this album, McLean's One Step Beyond and Destination...Out!. Cranshaw's fine bass work, particularly his bowing on the title track, support Hutcherson imaginatively.
McLean and Morgan seem to have met up with the crew from Invasion of the Body Snatchers on their way to this date. Not that their playing on this album isn't as magnificent as usual; it's magnificent, all right, but in some places it hardly sounds like McLean and Morgan. Morgan, particularly, shows a side of himself here rarely seen elsewhere. In a 1970 Down Beat he cited this album and Andrew Hill's Grass Roots (will that one ever see the light of day again?) as his two forays into "free forms." His playing on Evolution alone suggests that, had he chosen to do so, he could have given Freddie Hubbard and maybe even Don Cherry a run for their money in the realm of "free" trumpeting. On "Air Raid" he broods artfully until a kick from Hutcherson launches him into high gear; where one might expect him to seize the opportunity to feel for more conventional territory, however, his playing remains adventurous and marvelously appropriate to the moment. On the playful "Monk in Wonderland" and elsewhere he shows off, with skillful valve techniques and other ingredients of his bag of tricks, his total mastery of his instrument.
McLean shines no less brightly. His work here is similar in its expanded expressiveness to that on his Destination...Out! (which was recorded two months previously). This new depth was to carry over to his subsequent Blue Note albums (most notably the Consequences session with Morgan) that returned to a more conventional hard bop mode. All in all, of the three albums recorded by McLean, Moncur, and Hutcherson, this is the most fully realized and most rewarding of repeated listens.