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Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk

Dan Bilawsky By

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Every time it looks like all the gold has been mined from Thelonious Monk's music, somebody comes along to prove otherwise.

Harmolodic Monk finds multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle and percussionist John Pietaro applying saxophone icon(oclast) Ornette Coleman's freeing philosophical ideal(s) to Monk's oft-performed music. To some, the resultant performances may seem far more complex than the originals, complete with mind-expanding abstractions, reductions, and alterations. To others, this music may be very simple to grasp. In truth, both viewpoints are correct. The album-opening "Epistrophy," painted with molasses and (de)constructed in unique fashion, and the penultimately-placed "Monk's Mood," built on a foundation of brooding uncertainty, make the argument for those who may tend to see the radical side of this music. Those same people, however, may feel differently when "Pannonica" begins. Lavelle's alto clarinet glides through the start of that number with extreme directness.

With each track, Lavelle and Pietaro manage to find something new to say, moving away from Monk's viewpoint and shifting gears from the previous number(s). Primal modernism wins out on "Green Chimneys," the gentler side of Monk is taken to the outer limits in solo features for Lavelle ("Crepuscule With Nellie") and Pietaro ("Ruby, My Dear"), and "Let's Cool One," bookended with Monk-ish stability, features a stunning brass cadenza at its core. Some classics still exude the charms they were born with ("Round Midnight"), but others lurk in the shadows, shrouded in mystery and veiled with individual expression.

Those who like their Monk straight, with no musical chasers, may have a hard time swallowing this music, but that's a shame. There's tremendous ingenuity and skill behind Harmolodic Monk. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro deserve a lot of credit for finding a new entryway into the oft-visited world of Thelonious Monk.

Track Listing: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys/52nd Street Theme; ’Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Nutty; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk/Straight No Chaser; Monk’s Mood; In Walked Bud; Light Blue.

Personnel: Matt Lavelle: cornet, flugelhorn, alto clarinet; John Pietaro: vibraphone, bodhrán, congas, percussion.

Title: Harmolodic Monk | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Unseen Rain Records

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