Album Review: Cosmic Nickelodeon (2016) by Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene

Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene

Relative Pitch (CD)

Personnel

  • Jemeel Moondoc (alto saxophone)
  • Hilliard Greene (bass)

Review

I have had the pleasure of seeing Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene play live. I recall seeing Jemeel playing at a free jazz series on the Lower East Side at the Chase Manhattan Bar and Grille some years back. John F. Swed, author of the Sun Ra biography, Space Is the Place: the Lives and Times of Sun Ra, was in the audience. This was the day I made my debut as a leader performing with Daniel Carter. I first saw Jemeel Moondoc with Muntu at Studio Rivbea back in the seventies. As fate would have it, Jemeel Moondoc also played opposite me at the Chase Manhattan Bar & Grille that same Saturday afternoon.

Hilliard Greene played with Charles Gayle and David Pleasant in the early days of the Knitting Factory at its original East Houston Street location. I always felt that Silkheart Records should have recorded this trio, as they were extremely tight, musically speaking. Having familiarity with Jemeel and Hilliard, it is a pleasure to hear them playing together on this CD. Both are veterans of free jazz. This performance reflects the many years they have spent honing their skills on their respective instruments.

“Blues For Katie,” is the opening track, written by Jemeel. What a great way to start off this CD recording. The blues feeling is something that most jazz artists utilize. It is a joy to hear Jemeel soaring like a bird on his alto saxophone while Hilliard is providing grounding earth support. I enjoyed this piece so much, I wanted to hear more. The second track was a song aptly named “Spiritual Medley,” put together by Hilliard. It consists of three well-known spirituals: “Swing Low,” “Deep River,” and “Wade in the Water.” Again they both shine on these songs displaying a wide range of dynamics and an engaging use of space during each song. They don’t rush, but take their time, exploring varying musical nuances and bringing them to logical conclusions.

The third track, “The Founding of a Lost World,” has shades of Ornette Coleman, the way Jemeel begins the song. Make no mistake, Jemeel has his own musical voice. The piece develops as a cat and mouse, call and response, between Jemeel and Hilliard. This song almost feels like a ballad. This is followed by “Hi-Lo,” by Hilliard, a rather slow moving piece. Jemeel plays well in this setting as his alto sound tends to fill the space, while Hilliard provides timely support.  Both players are clear listening to each other and responding.

“Here Now Gone Now,” by Jemeel Moondoc, explores another slow moving space that allows Hilliard to play melodies that parallel Jemeel’s melodic lines. Hilliard’s strength is having a good musical ear. He plays beautiful harmonies underneath, while the soloist moves over the top. Both musicians are extremely melodic in their playing, something that is needed in many free jazz circles today both in live performances and on record.

Hilliard wrote the solo work “Pizz.”  It is fitting that he starts it off, playing boldly without abandonment, setting up the improvisations to follow. Again, Hilliard is very melodic when he does this. I think aspiring young musicians ought to follow his lead. I have attended Hilliard’s solo bass performances and he shines in that setting very well. Do check out his CD, Alone (Soul Search Music).

The title track, written by Jemeel, is hard to put into words. It is an odd swing track with varying tempos. Both men are playing free in the sense that they are moving on pulse rather than specific tempos like post-bebop jazz artists. I enjoyed the music and the performances from Jemeel and Hilliard. I hope they decide to do another recording in the future. If you are into melodic musical explorations, than this CD is for you.

–Marc Edwards, May 9, 2016