There have probably not been two more disparate individuals in jazz than the pianists Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Ellington was a florid individual in all aspects of his life, with his speaking style, his sartorial choices, and his compositions which were informed by ever-growing inspirational sources. In contrast, Monk was introverted and generally uncommunicative; his compositional style was linear and succinct, and he was generally more comfortable playing his own material. Pianist Spike Wilner, who had great admiration for these musical giants, brought together a couple of his long time collaborators, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth, to play the music of these icons.
The opening track is Monk's "Eronel," one of his less frequently played compositions which Wilner takes at a brisk pace with a quick thinking focus. Washington comes to the table with a deep-toned solo which is followed by an exchange of eights between Farnsworth and Wilner, leading to a Farnsworth workout on the drum kit before Wilner takes the tune out. Somewhat more familiar is "Pannonica," a ballad which Monk wrote for his patron Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Wilner gives this composition a beautiful and heartfelt reading. Washington is again front and center with a dark and furrowed solo. The final Monk track is "Let's Cool One" a phase which Harlem DJ Ralph Cooper regularly used on his show. Farnsworth opens the number with some slinky brush work after which Wilner states the recognizable theme. There are no real bop lines here, just some nifty chord changes and some lilting single note runs showing that Wilner is a fastidious and swinging pianist.
The Ellington section of the disc is divided between two of Duke's compositions and two from his right hand man Billy Strayhorn, none of which is readily recognizable. The first Ellington composition "Gypsy Without A Song" was written and recorded by him in 1938, while "Le Sucrier Velour" was part of "The Queens Suite" written in 1976 almost 40 years later. The former has a Latin flair which Wilner captures with the appropriate coloration, as both Washington and Farnsworth provide nimble and imaginative support.The latter has a measured dream-like quality with Wilner bringing a sense of solitude to the number.
The Strayhorn contributions are "U.M.M.G." (Upper Manhattan Medical Group) and "Intimacy Of The Blues" with the former being the better known. Both numbers provide Wilner and his cohorts with the opportunity to build layers of nuance and allows their investigative instincts to weave multiple strands musical dialogue.
Eronel; Well You Needn't; Pannonica; Wonderful!Wonderful!; Let's Cool One; Gypsy Without A
Song; Le Sucrier Velour; U.M.M.G.; Intimacy Of The Blues
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.