Jemeel Moondoc's The Zookeeper's House was a stunner - a 5-star record on this site in 2014 and, by most accounts, a verifiable masterstroke. Contemplative in moments, it also spent a fair amount of time a-roar. Hilliard Greene knows. He was there; played bass on the record and afterward, he and Moondoc decided to work in duo on a more intimate affair. Cosmic Nickelodeon is that eccentric dilation.
'Blues for Katie' opens with Greene's simple figures and simpler variations allowing Moondoc space to breathe. No pyrotechnics in his blues, this is straight soul, almost dipping into a sound like southern gospel. It's a lovely opener and one that Moondoc lends to Greene for a quick solo with a few snapped strings before he closes the spiritual.
'Spiritual Melody (Swing Low, Deep River, Wade In the Water)' carries the gospel sound a bit further - no surprise, given the title. This is a more isolated, more introspective piece. Greene sustains an arco of simple but staggering beauty. This is a deliberate, ponderous, passionate "solo." Overdubs are evident, but they also belong to Greene. Moondoc rolls out of the gate on 'The Founding of the Lost World' with quick figures. Greene's nimble plucks follow in odd, irregular phrases. On 'Hi-Lo', Moondoc's solemn blasts mirror the plod of Greene's somber arco. The bassist's shift to pizzicato eventually becomes an insistence on a more chittering dialogue. Moondoc complies with some of the album's strongest and most brisk phrases. In the end though - and, again, in the spirit of the record in total - the duo returns to hash out its initial contemplation.
We aren't long to wait for Greene's arco to return, as it begins 'Here Now Gone Now' in the same somber clip; though it ultimately leads to playing more joyous - even rapturous in moments. Greene saws away in spurts and cements the fact that while Moondoc is perhaps the bigger "star" - and is, of course, brilliantly named - this is the bassist's record. Pizz furthers said assertion, a pizzicato solo to match Greene's earlier exploits in arco. Unlike the earlier spiritual however, Pizz is all stomp and swagger. The bassist spends most of the 11+ minute title track walking all over the given space. The simplicity of his runs on this closing song sets Moondoc aloft for some of his most bizarre and wonderful figures (borrowing liberally from giants like Coleman).
This isn't the titan that The Zookeeper's House was, but what did we expect? Sometimes masterstrokes are clumped; sometimes they're followed by a more ponderous conversation, an examining of the moment as it was. Compared to Zookeeper's House, this conversation's like smoke: not as threatening initially as the more obvious fire, but eventually, it fills the room.