A powerful and vastly underrated avant-garde alto saxophonist, Jemeel Moondoc blended the free-form melodic thought of Ornette Coleman and the sharp edge of Jackie McLean or Charles Tyler with the sort of ferocious energy playing usually reserved for tenorists.
Moondoc began playing piano as a child, studied clarinet and flute, and settled on alto around age 16; he subsequently studied with Cecil Taylor at various colleges in the early '70s. In 1972, he moved to New York, where he formed Ensemble Muntu with trumpeter Roy Campbell, bassist William Parker, and drummer Rashid Baker. The group recorded for its own Muntu label in the late '70s, and Moondoc also led solo sessions for labels like Soul Note and Cadence through the early '80s.
However, financial difficulties forced Moondoc to break up his large ensemble (the Jus Grew Orchestra) and essentially retire from music for over a decade, working as an architect's assistant. Moondoc's career was revived in the mid-'90s when the Eremite label coaxed him into signing a deal that allowed tremendous creative leeway.
In 1996, Moondoc recorded his first albums in 11 years: the studio trio date Tri-P-Let and the live Fire in the Valley (performed at the festival of the same name). 1998 brought New World Pygmies, a duo with William Parker from that year's Fire in the Valley.
Next, Moondoc revived his Jus Grew Orchestra as a ten-piece and performed a set of Massachusetts concerts documented on 2001's Spirit House