Indianapolis-based guitarist and composer Charlie Ballantine
has made thematically organized albums before. Life is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan
(Green Mind Records, 2018) featured creative versions of songs by the iconic songwriter, and Vonnegut
(Green Mind Records, 2020), was made up of original Ballantine compositions inspired by the work of novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Here the inspiration is purely musical, and it is one of the pillars of modern jazz: the brilliant composer & pianist Thelonious Monk
. Many of the tunes first appeared on his classic Blue Note albums, and were revisited by his bands many times during his career.
The first half of the program is a tribute to Monk's trio playing, with Ballantine joined by bassist Jesse Wittman
and drummer Chris Parker
who both played on Life is Brief
and the sequel Cold Coffee
(Green Mind Records, 2019). The set begins with "Reflections," the gentle ballad which is one of the title tunes. The least-played tune here is "Raise Four," a relatively late composition from the Monk album Underground
(Columbia Records, 1968), with an especially twisty, repetitive head. The trio set (also the first LP of the two-LP set) ends with a solo performance of "Pannonica," a nod towards Monk's occasional solo piano performances. It is a lovely performance, and notable for the guitar sound. Ballantine performs with a traditional bop approach, but favors a more contemporary guitar tone (here and elsewhere).
The quartet once again includes Wittman on bass, with drummer Cassius M. Goens III
: the pair appeared together on Vonnegut
. The group is rounded out by saxophonist Amanda Gardier
, a frequent collaborator also last heard on Vonnegut
. "Brilliant Corners" first appeared on Brilliant Corners
(Riverside Records, 1957), where it famously required numerous takes in the studio, but it opens this set with a confident, swinging swagger. "Green Chimneys" is another late composition from Underground
. While it has received numerous cover versions, it is still far less commonly heard than most of the other tunes on the album. "Monk's Dream" is given an especially exuberant treatment. The album closes with a final solo piece, a thoughtful rendition of "Let's Cool One."
Ballantine's recordings have drawn from a variety of American musicsjazz, folk, blues and rockand that eclecticism has been a big part of their appeal. But it is a pleasure to hear him focus on jazz here, and join in the long history of Monk interpretation in the company of such sympathetic players.
Reflections; Bemsha Swing; Off Minor; Ugly Beauty; Raise Four; Bemsha Swing (Alternate Take); Pannonica (Solo); Brilliant Corners; Green Chimneys; Introspection; Evidence; Ask Me Now; Monk's Dream; Brilliant Corners (Alternate Take); Let's Cool One.