Spanish pianist-composer Alex Conde (currently residing in the Bay Area) unites his love of flamenco and the music of Thelonious Monk with these creative arrangements. Conde is a working flamenco musician, having spent the last four years with renowned U.S. flamenco company the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company. He also attended the Berklee College of Music, which may explain the fascination with Monk. He is accompanied by the Bay Area rhythm section of bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer John Arkin, with special guest percussionist John Santos. Monk's music seems to have a special affinity to different approaches. There have been numerous Latin treatments in the past, with Jerry Gonzalez's Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside, 1989) one prominent example.
The opening "Played Twice" immediately establishes the flamenco feeling through the presence of traditional palmas and compas (hand claps and foot stomps) in addition to the rhythm section and percussion. It's an exciting start, and as usual Monk's composition sounds completely at home in this new setting, compliments of the fiery playing of Conde and his group. "Ugly Beauty" is the only other track employing palmas and compas, so the flamenco influence is subtler throughout much of the rest of the program. It's probably telling that the "descarga" of the album title usually refers to a Cuban (later salsa) jam session.
In fact "Monk's Dream" comes out swinging, with little overt Latin flavor at all. Conde performs "'Round Midnight" and "Pannonica" solo, the latter with the stride feel that Monk himself sometimes favored. The rhythm section mostly restricts themselves to teamwork, providing Conde with support and encouragement. Bassist Jeff Chambers does get a memorable solo on "Bemsha Swing," complete with a brief humorous musical quote.
Conde is an excellent pianist who would command attention playing anything, and I look forward to hearing him play his own compositions. But for any lover of Monk or Latin music this is an irresistible combination, with the added spice of a unique Flamenco flavor.
Played Twice; Thelonious; Think of One; Ugly Beauty; 'Round Midnight; Monk's Dream; Evidence; Ruby My Dear; Pannonica.
Alex Conde: piano; Jeff Chambers: bass; Jon Arkin: drums; John Santos: percussion; Amparo Conde, Carmen Carrasco: palmas & compas (hand claps, foot stomps).
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