|Khan Jamal's outings are always clearly drawn and conceptualized. Here the distinct vibest brings along long-time associates to share in the fun and fascination of the music's exposition. An unexpected event comes on the last track ("Sonny's Back) when Grachan Moncur offers up an ad-libbed vocal. Another distinctly Jamalian outing. Recorded January 10 & 11, 2005.
One Final Note Review Journeyman vibraphonist Khan Jamal has benefited from CIMP patronage to wax several notable sessions that revive the activist modal jazz of the 1970s. On Black Awareness, his fourth session for the label, he enlists another oft-overlooked veteran to his cause, composer and trombonist Grachan Moncur III. Following a period of obscurity, Moncur has emerged from New Jersey of late. This session presents him for the first time in many years as the featured solo voice in a small band setting, playing tunes written either by himself or Jamal that evoke his period near the forefront of the music.
Moncur always favored vibraphone, often using Bobby Hutcherson, but this is no nostalgic turn—it can’t be. Health problems have taken the edge off Moncur’s blowing. His range is two octaves at best, and his flexibility is equally limited. Still he makes the most of what he has, fashioning canny solos that belie his limitations. Moncur blows with a sense that he has paid a dear price for each note, and each must be expended with great care. He fashions taciturn riffs, then worries them, increasing their value by speaking them in just the right place in the harmonic spectrum so the ringing tones of drums, cymbals, and bass amplify their resonance.
Alto saxophonist Byard Lancaster seems to take a cue from Moncur’s approach, playing solos on the first two tracks—Jamal’s “One Comes First” and Moncur’s “Riff Raff”—that have a studied air about them. After Moncur’s hymn-like “Believe”, however, he opens the solos on Jamal’s “Black Awareness” with an explosion of sound. Jamal himself maintains a low-key classical approach, making his strongest statement when he steps out as an unaccompanied soloist on his own “Nubian Queen”. Bassist Dylan Taylor, working closely with drummer Dwight James, is a stalwart. He strolls along, singing underneath, engaging the soloist in conversation, echoing his phrases, and then extending them.
With James kicking from the start, the most extensive blowing comes on “Bloom”. The stickman urges the soloists, punctuating the phrases with bombs that also push them into the next phrase. The session closes with Moncur’s “Sonny’s Back”, which Archie Shepp used as his theme long after Moncur’s tenure with his band was over. Moncur catches the spirit and sings lyrics penned by Clifford Browning. The vocalizing is enthusiastic, albeit off mike, then he and Lancaster converse. It’s a heartfelt performance and a fitting close to the session.