One of New York City's favorites, The Microscopic Sextet's 30-year run has seen a dormant period, but has been revitalized via its affiliation with Cuneiform Records. With its fourth release for the label, Thelonious Monk's influence and eternal spirit yields a wittily entertaining facelift via the septet's customary off-center expansions on bop and swing, to complement the intermittent jiggle to the avant-garde. Its musicians are true to form with their holistic stance on Monk's discography, and, thankfully, they coat the material with a fresh spin, which is the antidote to the present, and seemingly well-worn, literal renditions of the master's songbook.
Perhaps not the unit's most radical outing, Friday the ThirteenthThe Micros Play Monk is centered on modern jazz classics, and not comprised of the artists' respective compositions. Therefore, it probably wouldn't be a wise idea to mash and slash Monk's work into oblivionloosely speaking, that is. But with minor detours and clever rhythmic deviations amid a few nicely placed freeform jaunts, the music is a study in contrasts and textural arrays. Add the sometimes hyper-mode soloing and tenderly coined choruses, and the septet hearkens to a different drummer on "Teo," due to drummer Richard Dworkin's wily, surf rock tom patterns and the horn section's revved-up phrasings and improvised breakdown. They inject quotes from other Monk pieces not represented on the album, while instilling a cha-cha vibe during "We See." Then, on "Epistrophy," Dave Sewelson's popping baritone sax notes give way to a sprightly multi-register blast from his fellow horn-men, atop Dworkin's perky Latin groove.
Devoid of clichés and the old wine-new bottle equation, The Microscopic Septet, as anticipated, delivers the goods with its signature mode of adventure and quirkiness. It's a colloquy that professes a sense of newness under the portent that the musicians have aligned their creative juices with Monk's spiritand nod of approval from above.
Brilliant Corners; Friday the 13th; Gallop's Gallop; Teo; Pannonica; Evidence; We See; Off Minor; Bye-Ya; Worry Later; Misterioso; Epistrophy.
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.
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