When trombonist Grachan Moncur III was signed to Blue Note back in the '60s, he recorded with titans like Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan. But Moncur didn't exactly endear himself to the industry, especially after vociferously demanding the rights to his own music, said Bay Area vibraphonist Ben Adams. Once word got around that he was difficult to deal with, Moncur pretty much got blackballed. Ever unflappable, he still released half a dozen albums as a bandleader between 1963 and 2004, and worked as a sideman with avant-garde players like Archie Shepp. When Adams posted a comment on Moncur's MySpace page in 2006, he was surprised to get a message back two weeks later that said something to the tune of "Hey, if you ever want to get together, here's my manager's number."
The result of this improbable collaboration, Inner Cry Blues, features homages to Duke Ellington (an "A Train" spinoff called "G Train"), Louis Armstrong, Jackie McLean, and Sonny Rollins. With Moncur leading the band on trombone, Adams on vibes, and Sameer Gupta on drums, it's one of the most interesting collaborations to come out of the East Bay this year. These days you see a lot of established artists like Branford Marsalis and Christian McBride trying to incorporate hip-hop into their act, but it's less common for younger musicians to reach back to their roots. Inner Cry Blues gets a little more wattage on novelty than musical depth, as Moncur offers original takes on the old standards, but doesn't employ the post-bop idioms that characterized the earlier part of his career. Still, the album incorporates some fetching new compositions, especially the title track (which sounds like a New Orleans funeral dirge) and the jaunty tune "Hilda." Adams says he's teaching his quintet to behave with the looseness of a trio, and for the most part, you can hear it.
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