Heiner Stadler: Tribute to Bird and Monk (2011)
In the winter of 1978, Heiner Stadler lent his consummate skill to conceiving, arranging and conducting a project featuring the music of two of the most beloved icons of modern music: Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Tribute to Monk and Bird (Tomato, 1978) was released as a 2-LP set, produced by Michael Cuscuna, and eleven years later, it was re-released as a 2-CD set. Now, 22 years later, this magnificent session makes its reappearance yet again. Why is this important? For two reasons: Not only does it reaffirm the absolute relevance of the music of Monk and Bird, but this time perhaps it also reaffirms the longevity of Stadler's recreations of the music of two of the most startling constellations in the known musical universe.
Tribute to Monk and Bird is an audacious record, a work of utter inspiration. Stadler has distilled the essence of Monk's and Bird's path-breaking music. He cuts to the quick and the dead of the rhythm of the African-American idiom, something at the heart of Monk and Bird's music. It is in the accents, the break-beats and shuffling holler of the revolutionary music of bebop that the ingenuity of those two musicians resides. The revolutionary rhythmic attack was key. Bird played his majestic recreations of the standards of the day and wrought tortured, yet joyful compositions from his soul. Monk created a new architecture for musical composition. And both musicians created a singular space in universe of American music: Bebop is possibly the last known invention in jazz.
More appropriately, ever since the '40s copycats have abounded. More musicians played in Bird's and Monk's skin than created their own music. This is what makes the originality of Stadler's interpretations stand out in sharp contrast to what had been happening for decades. There is maddening polytonal trickery in the theme of "Air Conditioning," and all the players dazzle in the density of the colors and shades. Trombonist George Lewis' majestic blowing of 12-tone chromatics on "Au Privave" also features drummer Lenny White's depth bombs, while the swaggering, almost drunken rhythm of Monk's tantalizing "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-are" is further chopped and re-crafted by pianist Stanley Cowell.
Shape-shifting polytonality flavors Thad Jones' burnished cornet, mixing in the majesty of Reggie Workman's pizzicato bass structures with Cowell's shattering attack in "Misterioso," while "Perhaps" is embellished by tenor saxophonist George Adams' melodious atonality, peppering the high and mighty howl of Jones' flugelhorn. Special mention need to be made of Lewis' stellar turn, shattering modern conceptions of how a trombone may be played.
In the end, however, it is the surging audacity of Heiner Stadler's rearrangements that must be felicitated. Tribute to Monk and Bird belongs to him as much as it does his musical touchstones.
Track Listing: Air Conditioning; Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-are; Au Privave; Straight No Chaser; Misterioso; Perhaps.
Personnel: Thad Jones: trumpet (1, 3--5), flugelhorn (6); George Adams: tenor saxophone (1--5), flute (6); George Lewis: trombone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Reggie Workman: bass; Lenny White: drums; Warren Smith: timpani (5, 6); Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet (2).