Monk Moods: Monk Abstractions, Plays Monk, Play Monk & Live 2007


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Sam Newsome
Monk Abstractions

Plays Monk
Long Song

Stan Tracey/Bobby Wellins
Play Monk

SF Jazz Collective
Live 2007

"Each song is a parable of form, timing, concision and motion. The musician who investigates this material finds, additionally, a series of interlocking meditations on the fundamentals of melody, harmony, rhythm and form.

- Ben Goldberg (from liner notes of Plays Monk)

Intriguing — the use, here, of the words 'parable' and 'meditations', for it's become clear that the music of Thelonious Monk has truly entered the canon and jazz musicians of every period are called to interpret its gospel.

Saxophonist Sam Newsome is up first with an oratory challenge on Monk Abstractions — following the lead of the late Steve Lacy, he chooses to play these tunes alone, starkly alone, seeing the recording as akin to the 19th-century music for unaccompanied violin by Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840). Newsome intersperses five "Monk Abstractions throughout the recording to point to and away from the Monk and reflect on the music and the solo saxophone in general. His extensive notes reveal him to be a champion of one horn standing alone and a scholar of Monk, saxophonists and sound.

This is a sonic spectacular with the solo soprano sax crystalline and majestic. Newsome finds every color and texture — listen to his astounding tonguing technique on "Misterioso , for example — and explores the singular beauty of the composer, the instrument and even the recording studio. This is Monk the way you've not really heard him before — the aforementioned "Misterioso even suggests Messiaen's birdcalls — and these great melodies seem to emerge from the ether. Newsome has the true abstract artist's gift of reshaping and reframing the elements of his work.

Plays Monk finds us in more familiar territory — a jazz trio — but this is by no means to suggest that this is a conventional reading. Drummer Scott Amendola notes that this recording is an homage to Monk's interminable spirit and the group's own way to push the envelope. The trio takes yet another challenge in finding new ways to play this music and damned if they don't succeed gloriously.

Hear what they do with "Work and how the three pound out new feels and fresh voicings. Clarinetist Ben Goldberg intones and wails the melody and gives his take on the 4/4 solo. But, of course, it's not just straight fare and the solos mix things up with dazzling colors. And they know how to take it down — and out — without really losing the essence of the originals. "Reflections is lovely — all three players (Devin Hoff fills out the group on bass) truly sing and get to the heart of Monk's glorious balladeering. Every line, every note by every player is heard in distinct clarity.

Englishman Stan Tracey has long been influenced by Monk's pianistics and on Play Monk he presents — along with cohort saxophonist Bobby Wellins — a more conventional (that is, more like the classic Monk quartet recordings) but never less than compelling take on an evening's worth of the master. Recorded at London's renowned The Bull's Head, it plays up how much Monk's vocabulary has been absorbed by Tracey and Wellins. A familiar collection of tunes with their quirky ups and downs, the co-leaders play as if this music is in their blood — as indeed it must be.

Tracey's son Clark plays drums and the bassist is Andy Cleyndert, a working quartet that never lets these tunes become old hat. The essence of the group and of Monk is immediately evident on "Bright Mississippi , the composer's stunning 'simplifying' of "Sweet Georgia Brown . The band digs in for a ride that finds Monk and his source in beautiful tandem. Tracey's solo calls up not just Monk and Duke (another hero) but also the stride roots from which both emerged. On "Monk's Mood , unaccompanied tenor and piano delve into this episodic composition but take paths that suggest other worlds. And none of these players ever loses the joy and spirit of the music from which they take off.

The San Francisco Jazz Collective is known for its celebration of jazz masters. On Live 2007, a recording of their fourth concert tour, they tackle new music and, in a whole separate disc, the compositions of Monk. These arrangements are more akin to those done for larger forces by arrangers like Hall Overton or even Oliver Nelson. Monk once said, "You know, anybody can play a composition and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It's making it sound right that's not easy. That's the challenges these arrangers are up against and that they succeed is in great part due a steller group of players.

Bassist Matt Penman has taken "Crepuscule with Nellie and rediscovered the simple, beautiful love song therein. Pianist Renee Rosnes here channels Monk with the great Bobby Hutcherson digging romantically into the melody as her thematic partner. Saxophonist Miguel Zenón has moved "Epistrophy to a Latin locale where he can play a passionate solo. Joshua Redman gives "Bye-Ya something of a boogaloo pulse and demonstrates that Monk's music allows the best interpreters to reveal and expand their own personalities.

Tracks and Personnel

Monk Abstractions

Tracks: Monk Abstraction No.1 ; Boo Boo's Birthday;Skippy; Ask Me Now; Monk Abstraction No. 2; Misterioso; Four in One; Monk Abstraction No. 3; Ugly Beauty; Monk Abstraction No. 4; Straight, No Chaser; Crepuscule With Nellie; Rhythm-a-ning; Monk Abstraction No. 5; Trinkle-Tinkle.

Personnel: Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone.

Plays Monk

Tracks: Skippy; Boo Boo's Birthday; Work; Reflections; Little Rootie Tootie; Green Chimneys; Shuffle Boil; Four in One; Eronel; Teo.

Personnel: Scott Amendola: drums; Ben Goldberg: clarinet: Devin Hoff: bass.

Play Monk

Tracks: I Mean You; Locomotive; Well You Needn't; 'Round Midnight; Blues Bolivar; Monk's Mood; Let's Cool One; Bright Mississippi.

Personnel: Stan Tracey: piano; Bobby Wellins: tenor saxophone; Andrew Cleyndert: bass; Clark Tracey: drums.

Live 2007

Tracks: Brilliant Corners; Epistrophy; Crepuscule with Nellie; Criss Cross; Bye-Ya; I Mean You; Ugly Beauty; San Francisco Holiday/Worry Later; Oska T; Reflections; Hornin' In; Bright Mississippi.

Personnel: Bobby Hutcherson; vibraphone; Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Dave Douglas: trumpet; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone; Andre Hayward: trombone; Renee Rosnes: piano; Matt Penman: bass; Eric Harland: drums.


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