Rome Neal's portrayal of Thelonious Monk in the one-man play Monk (Abingdon Theater, through May 8th) is deeply human, steering clear of idolatry and caricature. Jason Zinoman of The Times called it "a pleasant evening... not an emotional ride and one wonders what play he was watching. Laurence Holder's script deals forthrightly with Monk's mental illness and wrestles with an underlying paradox - for here is Monk, a self-described "man of few words , holding forth in an hour-plus monologue. But it is Monk's inner life that plays out before us (thanks to supplemental audio, we're even privy to the voices in his head). With his penetrating gaze, Neal prods the audience beyond mere spectatorship and the effect is unsettling. Pathos emerges in ways we don't expect: The death of Monk's beloved mother has Neal doubled over in pain, sobbing. Holder also sketches the enigmatic texture of Monk's important relationships: with his wife Nellie, his patron Pannonica and his fellow piano genius Bud Powell. Bill Lee's original, prerecorded music, while not especially Monk-like, enhances the beauty and grit of the unfolding drama. Toward the end of the play, Neal dances to a tender ballad, combining Monk's famous spinning movements with a whimsy of his own. It is a brilliant use of the "dream ballet concept from the mainstream Broadway tradition.
Early April was busy for reedist John Tchicai: first playing duo with bassist Adam Lane at the Hudson View Gardens "Sundays at 5" Lounge series (April 6th), then with guitarist Garrison Fewell at Cornelia Street Café for AAJ-NY's "1s & 2s concert series (April 7th). (Tchicai and Lane also played quartet with Paul Smoker and Gerry Hemingway at Zebulon on April 10th.) At HVG, home of our own Laurence Donohue-Greene, who curates the jazz there, Tchicai and Lane deepened the chemistry they first documented on DOS (CIMP). Even without an amp, Lane projected an enormous sound and set a firm rhythmic direction on two adventurous sets. Tchicai played bass clarinet on the first, tenor on the second. The first set was largely improvised, while the second featured tunes -including Tchicai's "Secret , Lane's "Melodic Fragment #7 and even the standard "Alice in Wonderland which Tchicai sang. The Fewell-Tchicai duets were more restrained - often pianissimo, in fact - but no less inventive. Fewell steered closer to the minimalism of Jim Hall than the frenetic energy of Joe Morris or Dom Minasi, and showed a remarkable affinity for the angular bop language of Monk on Tchicai's "Yogi In Disguise , based on Monk's "Friday the Thirteenth . Tchicai's slow legato treatment of "Auld Lang Syne was another bass clarinet highlight.
~ David Adler
On Apr. 1st, John Zorn's new club The Stone began greeting enthusiastic packed houses with "John Zorn's Improv Party . Half the club's namesake - Stephanie Stone (widow of the late Irving)- sat front row as a collective of musicians mixed and matched in various formations playing densely improvised spontaneous percussive compositions. Zorn's trio invocation, featuring drummers Kenny Wollesen and Tony Buck, appropriately ended with the proprietor's pointed acknowledgement to Ms. Stone. Joining Okkyung Lee (cello) was Ned Rothenberg (bass clarinet), the club's first music curator (the club designates a different musician each month). Lukas Ligeti (drums/percussion) and Shanir Blumenkranz (bass) supported the duo (Rothenberg switching to clarinet) in a spectacular orchestral coda of coordinated circular breathing techniques - Lee effectively creaking out continuous effects in applying pressure to strings, sound scientist Ligeti rubbing stick tips on cymbals, Rothenberg selecting a morphing and mesmerizing note pattern. Of the many other not-soon-to-be-forgotten moments: the rhythm section-less "3 Altos of Marty Ehrlich, Rothenberg and Zorn and the Wollesen-Ligeti duo. With Ligeti the lead voice, the two suitably complemented one another for the longest improv of the set; Wollesen colored spaces with tones, beats and accents, offering form to Ligeti's atonal proclivity. And in the tradition of Zorn's improv parties, the closing joined everyone together for a set-ending send-off for the new club.