Diane Monroe: Diane Monroe and Tony Miceli: Alone Together

Victor L. Schermer By

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Duets allow two musicians to work together intimately without the complications of a rhythm section. Such recordings are often done on the spot at the suggestion of one of the musicians or an agent. Historically, two iconic collaborations of this type were a studio gig with Jerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk (Mulligan Meets Monk, Riverside, 1957 ), and Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass a la Salle Pleyel(Pablo, 1975). When musicians such as these are creative and can think quickly on their feet, the results are often exciting, even though the arrangements are severely limited by the fact that they haven't worked with each other before. Fortunately, however, violinist Diane Monroe and vibraphonist Tony Miceli have been doing duet gigs, among their other activities, for several years, so the album Alone Together allowed them to develop more interesting arrangements and variety of songs than is usually the case.

As this unique collaboration amply illustrates, the sonorities of the violin and vibraphone make a beautiful combination. The violin resonates with emotion, and the vibes have the accuracy of a keyboard instrument with metal bars whose sound resembles bells, so that emotion and intellect are balanced. Monroe and Miceli are adept and resilient musicians of the highest caliber, so they are able to weave their combined sounds into many expressive variations that create "tone poems" and tell stories. For this album, they chose music of diverse genres -jazz standards, classical, folk/country, blues, Monk, and an arrangement (Monroe's "Wade in the Water") that defies categorization. Because they are outstanding jazz players, the music always retains the mainstream jazz idiom as its ultimate reference point. This is a finely done and highly listenable album that carries the listener away by evoking images and mental associations in response to the feelings generated. Monroe and Miceli "speak" well not only to each other but to the mind and heart of the listener.

The album starts out with two tracks which offer a touch of French impressionist stylings like those of Debussy. "Icarus" is a folk/world music song with a Celtic feeling by multi-imstrumentalist Ralph Towner. The ending generates a tension perhaps reflecting the fabled Icarus flying too near the sun. It is a good example of how music tells a story, with Monroe's violin being the narrator and Miceli providing a backdrop and commentary.

"Vince Guaraldi" is Miceli's composition, a homage to the revered West Coast jazz pianist who wrote the score to the Peanuts TV series. Miceli's lovely tune when improvised by Monroe and him sounds almost as if Linus and Lucy are having a conversation.

"Spain" is a Chick Corea arrangement of a tapestry of music by Spanish composers such as Joaquin Roderigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." Some brilliant playing by Monroe results from her outstanding classical training and background. Unison interludes between violin and vibes are especially well executed and recur throughout the album. At another juncture, Miceli takes a lively solo with echoes of Corea's keyboard facility.

"Fleetin' Blues" is a Monroe original with the flavor of bluegrass violin playing. Throughout the album, Monroe shows remarkable versatility, incorporating romantic, modern, and postmodern violin approaches on top of swing, bebop, and country fiddler styles. She came out of the jazz violin tradition of Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli, but her grasp transcends genre.

The standard, "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" is performed in upbeat double time, and here Monroe strongly echoes Grappelli's gypsy violin style. This song belongs to her, and Miceli provides good comping and takes a chorus with panache.

The artistic highlight of the album is an exquisite interpretation of Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brazileiras no.5" with its beautiful soprano solo transcribed for violin and arranged by Miceli. Not only does the duo understand the gorgeous harmonies and inflections of the great Villa-Lobos, but Monroe performs an extraordinary cadenza that would make Itzhak Pearlman take notice, and Miceli's vibes work is subtle and sophisticated. His unique approach to four-mallet playing works magic in this piece. This track completely dissolves the boundary between classical music and jazz. In itself, it is Grammy-worthy in several categories.

"Tennessee Waltz," a popular song that in recent years has attracted jazz musicians such as Jim Ridl who ironically performed it on a "Happyland baby piano," a miniature instrument like a celeste, in his album, Your Cheatin' Heart (Dreambox Media, 2005.) Miceli eschews the irony and plays it in a reflective way, as a ballad.

"Here's That Rainy Day" is a brooding standard in which, after a brief introduction by Miceli, Monroe "utters" the melody on violin, giving the instrument the sound of a blues singer and ending almost in a speaking, conversational voice.

"Wade (In the Water)" is a traditional spiritual arranged by Monroe in such a way that brief quotes from the song itself are offset with onomotopoeic staccato runs that suggest the running water of the title.

"Eronel" utilizes Miceli's learned understanding of Monk. He is founder and leader Monkadelphia, a quintet which plays Monk exclusively, so he really knows Monk. Therefore, Monroe defers to Miceli's approach in her lively solo. They successfully integrate Monk's syncopation within a mainstream framework, no easy feat to accomplish.

In the haunting ballad, "Alone Together" Monroe sets off an Astor Piazzolla tango rhythm against Miceli's rendering of the tune, where he echoes Milt Jackson's way of creating phrases around important notes of the melody and giving them a blues twist. The blend turns out to be quite felicitous, making something new out of a familiar tune, which is what jazz is all about.

"Misterioso" is the title tune of Monk's 1958 Riverside album recorded live at the Five Spot Café. It consists of a repetitive motif that self-parodies Monk's reputation as a mysterious, enigmatic character. Here, the tune is stated by Miceli, with Monroe carrying on a violin "conversation" around it. The two gradually increase the syncopation and trade brief phrases. They are able to "catch" Monk's idiosyncratic style, so the piece becomes a tribute to him.

The album concludes with the "(Theme from) Star Trek." Monroe has a turn at interspersing sound effects and what may be musical portrayals of the main Star Trek characters.

Track Listing: Icarus; Vince Guaraldi; Spain; Fleetin’ Blues; East of the Sun; Bachianas Tennessee Waltz; Here's That Rainy Day; Wade in the Water; Eronel; Alone Together; Misterioso; (Theme from) Star Trek

Personnel: Diane Monroe: violin Tony Miceli: vibraphone

Title: Diane Monroe and Tony Miceli: Alone Together | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Dreambox Media

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