Back in February 1982, when ex-Monk sidemen Charlie Rouse and drummer Ben Riley began the sessions for the first album by Sphere - intended as an homage to the then reclusive Thelonius' genius - they were yet to learn that he had died that same morning. Joined by pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Buster Williams from that first album, saxophonist Rouse and Riley continued to record and tour their takes on Monk's exceptional compositions, but the band broke up five years later. Soon afterwards, Rouse himself died, and it seemed that the Sphere quartet would end there.
Since then, Monk's reputation has only escalated, and pressure has steadily built for a Sphere reunion. And here it is, with the addition of a vigorous and top-form Gary Bartz on alto and occasional soprano saxophones. Kicking off with Monk's 'We See' (and Hornin' In later), the coalition of three of the most celebrated 'supportive' players and the adventurous, raw-toned Bartz generates a rich, multi-layered and swinging music that draws even more impact from outstanding engineering and mastering. Buster Williams' cashmere and cedar bass notes are particularly well-served, and the soundscape skilfully bridges the gap between conveying intimate sonic detail and capturing potent ensemble playing.
Two Bartz originals, a lyrical Strayhorn gem from the Ellington era and a Barron elegy (plus a playful take on The Surrey With The Fringe On Top), round off a recording that does simple justice to the genius of the man who prompted their formation, and adds lustre to Monk's position as a master of 20th Century music. But more than that, it's a hell of a band having a hell of a time. Can we have another one soon please, gentlemen?
TRACK LISTING:We See, Isfahan, Uncle Bubba, Hornin' In, Buck and Wing, Twilight, The Surrey With The Fringe On Top.
PERSONNEL:Kenny Barron - piano, Gary Bartz - saxophones, Ben Riley - drums, Buster Williams - bass.