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Frank Kimbrough: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk

Mark Sullivan By

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There were scores of tributes the legendary pianist and composer Thelonious Monk in 2017, the centennial of his birth. But only guitarist Miles Okazaki's six- volume solo guitar album Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk (Self Produced, 2018) gave a clear presentation of all seventy of Monk's compositions. Pianist Frank Kimbrough's similarly comprehensive set is riskier in some ways, as the grouping of jazz quartet with a horn as the lead instrument (usually saxophone) is the one that Monk himself often favored—making comparisons almost inevitable.

The genesis for these recordings came from a series of shows at the Jazz Standard club in New York City. Kimbrough chose the experienced rhythm section of bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Billy Drummond; the lead horn voice is the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, with whom he has played for many years, most notably with the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Kimbrough had not set out to perform all of Monk's works, but as the group played more and more of them it started to look like a possibility. An ambitious schedule of recording a CD a day was begun: and the group accomplished the task, many tunes requiring only a single take, the rest no more than two (or three in a few cases).

So while this is an ambitious project, the musicians carried those ambitions lightly. They were unified by preparation, experience, and a shared desire to do justice to Monk's music by staying true to its spirit. Kimbrough especially modified his usual approach to play more percussively, as well as incorporating some of Monk's characteristic gestures. Despite the relative speed of the recording process, there is considerable variety in the arrangements. Each of the individual discs has its own flow, and even the more expected arrangements never sound routine.

"Thelonious" opens the entire set with a reasonably traditional reading of the tune—except Robinson alternates between trumpet and tenor saxophone, for the head as well as the solos. Rather than sounding like a novelty, it makes the quartet seem like a quintet. "Round Midnight"—arguably Monk's best known tune—has its theme presented by the double bass, before the quartet enters for a more conventional treatment. "I Mean You" goes into some unusual places after the head, including a tenor saxophone/double bass duet and a piano/drums duet.

"Straight, No Chaser" is one of Monk's most played heads, but not usually with a contrabass sarrusophone in the lead. The sarrusophone is an unusual horn in any context: a metal woodwind instrument originally designed as a double-reed instrument, intended to replace the oboe and bassoon in wind bands. Such a low voice is unexpected, and lends a surprising, slightly humorous tone to the piece (a combination also used for "Mysterioso" ). Other unusual arrangements include "Reflections" with bass saxophone and double bass (also playing the head on "Blue Monk."). "Ruby, My Dear" and "Something In Blue" are both duets for tenor saxophone and piano. Monk was also known to record solo, as represented by the leader's take on "Crepuscule With Nellie" here.

And then there are the rarely recorded pieces, songs like "Brake's Sake" and "Gallop's Gallop." Monk also composed rarely heard holiday songs: the reflective "A Merrier Christmas" and the Monkian "Stuffy Turkey." These tracks are a sure attraction for Monk fans—along with the ability to hear all of Monk's compositions in one place—but they are not the only thing recommending this album. Above all else, Monk's Dream is an exemplary collection of interpretations of the compositions and playing style of Thelonious Sphere Monk—perhaps the greatest iconoclast of twentieth-century jazz.

Track Listing: CD1: Thelonious; Light Blue; Played Twice; Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are; Ask Me Now; Humph; Bright Mississippi; Reflections; Bemsha Swing; Teo; Blue Sphere; CD2: Crepuscule With Nellie; Think Of One; 52nd St. Theme; Eronel; Bluehawk; Little Rootie Tootie; Two Timer; Ruby, My Dear; Boo Boo's Birthday; San Francisco Holiday; Functional; I Mean You; CD3: Shuffle Boil; Monk's Dream; Evidence; Misterioso; Four In One; Brake's Sake; Pannonica; Bye-Ya; North On The Sunset; Introspection; We See; In Walked Bud; CD4: Nutty; Trinkle Tinkle; Blues Five Spot; Round Midnight; Jackie-Ing; Well You Needn't; Sixteen; Locomotive; Gallop's Gallop; Children's Song; Blue Monk; Friday The 13th; CD5: Criss Cross; Raise Four; Let's Call This; Who Knows; A Merrier Christmas; Stuffy Turkey; Monk’s Point; Work; Brilliant Corners; Off Minor; Hackensack; Oska T; CD6: Let’s Cool One; Hornin’ In; Coming on the Hudson; Straight No Chaser; Monk’s Mood; Green Chimneys; Rhythm-A-Ning; Ugly Beauty; Skippy; Something in Blue; Epistrophy.

Personnel: Frank Kimbrough: piano; Scott Robinson: saxophones, reeds, trumpet; Rufus Reid: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.

Title: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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