The most fitting tribute to Thelonious Monk
on the 100th anniversary of his birth was not by a pianist, but by a trumpeter, and not any ordinary trumpeter. Wadada Leo Smith
, like Monk, is a musician's musician. While his peers have seemingly always investigated his music, it took the listening audience (and, ahem, critics) awhile to catch up on his music. After his Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2013, for Ten Freedom Summers
(Cuneiform, 2012), the proverbial flood gates opened on his music. He has produced large ensemble works, recorded a haunting duo A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
(ECM, 2016) with Vijay Iyer
, and listeners have awakened to his earlier work with Anthony Braxton
, Ed Blackwell
, and Marion Brown
Smith covers four Monk compositions, "Ruby, My Dear," "Crepuscule with Nellie," "Reflections," and "´Round Midnight," and imagines Thelonious in four originals.
While this is a solo recording, on pieces like "Crepuscule with Nellie," where Smith plays the melody, there is also the presence of Monk accompanying the horn. Smith allows for enough space here, and in each composition, for us to perceive a figurative presentation of Monk's piano. This makes for an almost supernatural sound.
"Reflections" is played with a mute attached to his horn. Its effect is to almost make the music a spoken word piece. Contrast this with "´Round Midnight." Played with an open bell, it might be the most demanding music here. Not challenging for the listeners, but for a trumpeter to perform. Smith not only tames the trumpet beast, but domesticates its sound.
The original compositions are Monk-like dreams, "Monk and His Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Café," the escapism of "Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium -A Mystery," and two versions of "Adagio," one with mute and one without. This may be the finest Monk tribute recording to come out of the centenary celebration.
Ruby, My Dear; Monk and His Five Point Ring at the Five Spot Café; Reflections; Adagio: Monkishness - A Cinematic Vision of Monk Playing Solo Piano; Crepuscule with Nellie; Adagio: Monk, the Composer in Sepia - A Second Vision Thelonious Monk; Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium - A Mystery; ´Round Midnight.