Annette Johnson By

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Music and improvisation—that comes naturally to our ears but what if we say life and improvisation? Huh? Well, life is improvisation is it not? How do we deal best with that period of time between birth and death that we call life? Life is a strange dance partner—it offers one fun, friends, food, love, knowledge, discovery but lets you know throughout that death is part of this deal called life. Does improvisation sound more inviting now?

These are the questions that occurred to me as I wrote this article—a fitting tribute in Monk's centenary year. But Misterioso is also about the mystery of life and I am sure Monk could have called the piece Mystery but something in the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, take your pick, Misterioso better framed the mood of the tune—the word is onomatopoeic.

Naturally, I listened to the album—Misterioso and the cover bears the painting called The Seer by Giorgio de Chirico. The Quartet were Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Monk on piano, Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone and Roy Haynes on drums, mostly recorded at the Five Spot Blues Café in New York, one of Monk's first gigs after having his cabaret card and right to work restored.

I looked at the eight tunes on the album I accessed and saw that the tracks told the story of the 2016 campaign -"Nutty," "Blues Five Spot," "Lets Cool One," "In Walked Bud," "Just a Gigolo," "Misterioso," "Round Midnight," "Evidence."


As I listened I thought of the parade of sixteen, where the melody Monk makes on piano is catchy, nearly retro swing feel to that melody, clear and easy to get. But the Griffin solo was the stand out and after following Monk's melody for a while, he then set himself apart, his solo stood out for its lengthy domineering nature, one felt at times that he crowed, but he had some sweet parts where his quick sax notes mesmerized. By the end of the tune, I had forgot all about the criticism made of Griffin at the time—that he was out of place, didn't belong, but he took over the whole number!

Blues Five Spot

If Nutty was the saga of the sixteen, Blues Five Spot was the battle of the trio that never really was. The tune said in its insistent melody led on piano then followed by the saxophone, "Here we go, here we go, here we go!." The sax solo swings that "here we go" melody and ends with a warning that the Griffin lives, presides and intends to be well in the running. Monk comes back on piano with "here we go here we go, here we go" but even his solo acknowledges in the low notes that unseen undercurrents lurk and sure we can say here we go here we go but beware! Abdul-Malik's bass tells the same story, with Monk chiming in, sure here we go here we go but beware. The drum solo had hints of steel drum and then Griffin came back in with here we here we go again, pulling us all back on the sure road, here we go here we go again.

Let's Cool One

The Blues campaign opened with this tune's distinctive melody that says "We're gonna win this one, we're gonna win this one, we're gonna win! "Yes, we've won!" The first sax solo repeated this message and expounded on all things progress, followed by high noted promises and a riff of inevitability, an inexorable march forward, softer tones of the message then all join in and the piano—"we're gonna win this one" into a piano solo, "look at the race isn't it all really over already, just a formality—we're gonna win this one were gonna win this one," sax in on it to doubling of the message "we're gonna win this one were gonna win this one, it's inevitable!" The whole band does 'we're gonna win this one" to the end.

In Walked Bud

What an opening! The melody is a spectacle with a retro swing feel, back to the 1930s, catchy, memorable, a perfect one liner! Griffin's sax solo is confident, the notes insistent, a couple of warbles of notes, a high and then he gives everyone's ears a lyrical tune. Thankfully maybe, our ears wondering if Griffin blew what we thought he blew, up comes Monk, back in on piano with a slower melody, just as catchy until he comes up to speed and we get that melody of the one liner again. Monk expounds euphony, same melody, a bit of diddling around with it, high notes, all ways, the same theme. Reticent, Abdul-Malik comes in on bass in lowered tones, this is not the time to shine so he kept the bass solo short and sweet. Haynes drummed a burst of energy and I could hear 'lock her up, lock her up" for a couple strikes of the drums before it went on to shake things up a bit until the band joins in with that melody again—In walked Bud!

Just a Gigolo



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