Jemeel Moondoc - Composer

 It was Cecil Taylor who brought the young JEMEEL MOONDOC into modern jazz, and Jemeel has remained a devoted disciple ever since. Moondoc studied with Cecil Taylor and played in his Black Music Ensemble at Antioch College in 1970 – 1971, becoming a featured soloist. Moondoc’s own early groups, the Ensemble Muntu, which included Arthur Williams, Mark Hennen, Roy Campbell Jr. William Parker, Rashid Bakr, et al, was very much in the Taylor mold, but Moondoc remained open to other influences as well; the recent release of a three-CD box set, The Muntu Recordings, (NoBusiness Records NBCD 7-8-9) chronicles the first recordings and performances of Jemeel Moondoc and Muntu during the New York loft jazz scene. (see http://www.pointofdeparture.org/PoD27/PoD27Muntu.html)
In the 1980’s Moondoc made three recordings for Soul Note Records including Judy’s Bounce with Ed Blackwell and Fred Hopkins. This recording in particular gave Moondoc recognition as an innovative improviser and composer; his playing style sits somewhere between Ornette’s country wail and Jimmy Lyons street corner preaching. In 1983 Moondoc formed the Jus Grew Orchestra, a group of improvisers that included Roy Campbell Jr.  Bern Nix, Zane Massey, Steve Swell, Codaryl Moffett, Nathan Breedlove, John Voigt and others. Moondoc composed extensively, understanding, as did Mingus and Ellington, that t he strength and power of composition lies with the individual and unique talents of the orchestra members, he also use a technique called ‘conduction’ which is an improvisational technique were the conductor can guide the entire group through unwritten passages. At one point for about a year and a half during 1983 and 1984 Jemeel Moondoc and Jus Grew Orchestra performed every Thursday night at the Neither-Nor bookstore on East 5th Street. The Orchestra also did stints at the Nuyorican Poets Café, and First on First, with intermittent performances at the Fez.  The Jus Grew Orchestra made two live CD performances – Spirit House [Eremite, 2000], recorded at UMASS at its Magic Triangle Jazz Series, and Live at the Vision Festival [Ayler, 2002].
Between 1985 and 1996 Jemeel Moondoc could not secure a recording date. “There was a lack of interest in recording so-called free jazz at the time”, recalls Moondoc. “I remember thinking that the whole music scene was going downhill, I was still playing, I just didn’t record, it didn’t really bother me because I knew I was going to get the opportunity to record again”.
In 1995 Moondoc began a recording relationship with the now renowned Eremite Records label (eremite.com/eremite); between 1996 and 2002 he recorded several records on Eremite. The most acclaimed is Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys 2001. This recording “shows a musician capable of drawing together the post-bop linage that includes Jackie McClean and Charles Mingus, and the free-jazz energy music tradition of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor into one grand swinging synthesis”, writes Ed Hazell in the liner notes. “Any quintet lineup featuring alto sax, vibes, bass and drums inevitably invites comparison with Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch. Hard act to follow, but Jemeel Moondoc can hold his head up high. Those who take perverse pleasure in announcing the death of jazz in all its forms, should be strapped to a table and forced to listen to this 47-minute set until their ears bleed”. – Dan Warburton, Paiisiantransatlantic.com .  Jemeel Moondoc’s “unorthodoxies are deeply rooted in the knowledge of and a profound feeling for his craft. His heavily vocalized sound on alto combines the sharp edge of Jackie McLean and a gentleness of tone reminiscent of Joe Henderson. He manipulates timbre as expressively as Albert Ayler. The vivid animation and emotionalism of his playing again recall Ayler , along with another of Black Musuc’s great exponents, the South African  musician Dudu Pukwana”. But “Moondoc’s rhythmic concept, delivery, and sense of space are completely unique; his phrases slip and wobble prankishly, forming impossible oblique shapes, while somehow holding to a melodic line”. “Moondoc gives everything he does an old-world, future-world, other-word plurality. He is one of the most singular players in music, and one of the most eloquent and communicative storytellers”, explains Michael Ehlers of Eremite Records.    
Moondoc is currently associated with the newly formed Relative Pitch Records, his newly released CD, Two 2012, is an intriguing duo dialogue between Connie Crothers and Moondoc, “the program finds the two players engaging in an off-the-cuff improvisations – the takeaway from this intimate series of duets is that Crothers and Moondoc are kindred souls – not the sort who traffic in cheap musical melodrama – the emotional reach in their interactions is real.” (Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine). Moondoc’s newest release The Zookeeper’s House 2014, has started to gain some critical acclaim. “Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc has been keeping the faith in a post-free-jazz mindset for many years, working with bassist William Parker and others on the adventuresome avant-jazz fringes. He continues his progression with The Zookeeper’s House, The new five-track set, with different groupings and musical angles, captures a distinctly live vibrancy and in-the-moment vulnerability in the studio. On the opening track, Moondoc is joined by sensitive foil Matthew Shipp on piano, bassist Hilliard Green and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, laying out the rumbling ruminations for Moondoc’s six note, Albert Ayler-esque theme, played with brittle fervor by the saxophonist. Structure yields to abandon, and Moondoc’s toothy, sharp-toned burst, angular fragments and sense of space alight, with empathetic help from his allies. On “Little Blue Elvira,” a kind of ambling, slap-happy horn trio-with trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. (who died a few months after this session, and to whom the album is dedicated) and trombonist Steve Swell joining the leader in unison-conjures up a Mingus vibe. Loose essences of Coltrane (or the Coltranes) are worked into the album’s fabric with Alice Coltrane’s “Ptah The El Daoud,” another chord-less setting with Swell and Campbell, and  the aptly named “One For Monk & Trane.” “For The Love Of Cindy,” with only drums, bass and the saxophonist’s poetically embracing space, ends the album on an airy note, with a bittersweet ambiance vaguely redolent of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” but less lonely. With The Zookeeper’s House; Moondoc returns-and-continues-a bit deeper and wiser”. Josef Woodard-Downbeat Magizine  October 2014