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When you think about Thelonious Monk's or Bud Powell’s music, you think of the piano, the instrument of choice for those two eccentric legends. Drummer Paul Motian adopts a different approach to Monk and Powell with his piano-less Electric Bebop Band.
The name might lead you to believe that this is a fusion outfit, but its music is actually straight-ahead jazz of a very modern variety. Motian’s group includes two electric guitarists (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Steve Cardenas), an electric bassist (the great Steve Swallow) and two tenor saxmen (Chris Potter and Chris Cheek).
Play Monk and Powell is a surprisingly clean-sounding effort given the jerky tempos and angular melodies conceived by Monk and Powell. The rhythm-master Motian leads the way with his varying rhythms, while his sextet experiments with interweaving lines and imaginative solos. Creative as these renderings are, they remain completely faithful to the spirits of the two composers.
Many bands that cover Monk tend to exaggerate the quirky side of his music. Motian and company play it straighter here and bring out the full depth and beauty of the compositions. The five Monk covers sound slightly more interesting to me, but the four Powell tunes fit in nicely. The band’s version of Monk’s "Brilliant Corners" is especially good, as guitars, bass and saxophones converge then diverge, stop then start up again. "Rootie Tootie" is played at a furious tempo, while Powell’s "Wail" bops relentlessly.
The players in the Electric Bebop Band are huge talents, both when soloing and in combination. Everybody shines on these angular tunes, but Steve Swallow’s pure-sounding bass and Chris Potter’s lithe sax deserve special commendation.
Play Monk and Powell is another excellent release from a veteran drummer who always makes interesting music.