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The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk

C. Michael Bailey By

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If two creative star trajectories were ever meant to cross, it was those of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk and the Microscopic Septet. Sure, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron had a pretty good Monk gig going, and Sphere was a great tribute band lead by Monk's longtime tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse (followed by Gary Bartz). But, the Micros...here are seven guys who really have Monk under their skin. Documented on previous recordings, many sides reprised on Seven Men in Neckties (Cuniform 2006) and Surrealistic Swing (Cuniform, 2006), the Micros demonstrate a metaphysical kinship to Monk and his sideways musical thinking. Fractured symmetry, musical theory fallout, playing outside the box, nuclear swing: all of these amorphous terms can be applied to both Monk and the Micros.

Monk's music is foremost a melodic expression of the composer's sense of humor, one shared by the Micros. There is no "'Round Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," or "Blue Monk" here, but all of these and others are quoted in these twelve performances, half previously released and half newly arranged for this recording. The Micros are Monk experts who possess the same DNA as the master, seamlessly empathetic to his craggy compositional style.

In the hands of the Micros, the title piece is nearly Wagnarian in its use of Monk's reoccurring leitmotif, carried throughout the piece on the backs of all the melodic instruments. "Pannonica" is transformed into a Julius Hemphill juggernaut, replete with all of the necessary creative honking and squeaking to justify the performance as free jazz. Baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson enters a driving duet with drummer Richard Dworkin ferocious enough to recall the marathon duos of the late tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones in the mid-1960s.

The Micros add space to Monk's already spacious compositions, once referred to as the "skeleton" of bebop. While an overstatement, giving Monk's music a skeletal or foundational image is quite appropriate. It is pure creativity...both on the part of Monk and The Microscopic Septet.

Track Listing: Brilliant Corners; Friday the 13th; Gallop's Gallop; Teo; Pannonica; Evidence; We See; Off Minor; Bye-Ya; Worry Later; Misterioso; Epistrophy.

Personnel: Phillip Johnston: soprano sax; Don Davis: alto sax; Mike Hashim: tenor sax; Dave Sewelson: baritone sax; Joel Forrester: piano; David Hofstra: double bass; Richard Dworkin: drums.

Title: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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