319

Two Tastes of Monk: Magical Mystery and Strayhornmonk

Ken Dryden By

Sign in to view read count








John DiMartino Romantic Jazz Trio
Magical Mystery
Venus
2007


Strayhornmonk
Strayhornmonk
Unit Records
2007


The music of Thelonious Monk has long fascinated jazz musicians for its many challenges, including lines that are simultaneously dissonant yet accessible, plus the sudden changes thrust upon them. Pianist John Di Martino's Romantic Jazz Trio has a conventional looking lineup, while the band Strayhornmonk is a pianoless group featuring two alto saxophonists sharing the lead. Both units find fresh areas to explore within Monk's repertoire.

Di Martino is a Manhattan-based pianist who has had a lot of success recording for the Japanese label Venus. Magical Mystery has nothing at all to do with the Beatles; his latest incarnation of his Romantic Jazz Trio consists of veteran bassist Essiet Okon Essiet plus drummer Victor Jones.

Of the 70 published Monk compositions, two dozen or so are performed more often than the rest. With that thought in mind, it is more difficult for a pianist to break new ground on a record date, though Di Martino has a few twists in store. Monk's "Epistrophy" alternates between an intense staccato attack and a straight-ahead bop groove. "'Round Midnight" is easily Monk's best-known work; Di Martino doesn't overly attempt to stretch the boundaries of its theme, but improvises thoughtfully while maintaining the essence of its haunting melody. The fun romp through "Well, You Needn't" contrasts with the relaxed setting of "Eronel." Di Martino's lyrical title track is a tribute to Monk and (presumably) Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, an enjoyable piece that doesn't attempt to mimic Monk's writing style.

An occasional tribute band incorporates the name of its inspiration, but the quartet Strayhornmonk, consisting of alto saxophonists Gabriel Dalvit and Nat Su, bassist Andreas Zitz and drummer Claudio Str?by, honors both Monk and Billy Strayhorn, two composers who couldn't be more unalike.

Monk's music is the dominant element of their eponymous CD, consisting of seven selections. "Four in One" is typical of their efforts, with Dalvit and Su playing independent lines yet remaining in focus of one another in a brisk arrangement. The two saxophonists engage in a spacey duet that gradually takes shape as the familiar "Ask Me Now" as the rhythm section makes its entrance. "Monk's Point" began life as solo vehicle for the composer and was later orchestrated by Oliver Nelson for a large ensemble. This sprightly version features a single sax with drums, though the lack of liner notes leaves it unclear as to who is playing.

The three Strayhorn songs are performed with fewer frills. Str?by's unusual cadence behind the saxophones in "Blood Count" make the piece sound more like a funeral march than a rage against the pain of a killer disease (this was Strayhorn's final composition as he lay dying of esophageal cancer in a hospital). "U.M.M.G." (named for the Upper Manhattan Medical Group, home to Strayhorn's physician) is the best arrangement of the three Strayhorn pieces, an upbeat reworking of this well-known theme that conveys the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolitan doctor's office. But "Isfahan" relies so much on the sax interplay that it proves distracting at times.

One wonders whether this is a one-off project or that Strayhornmonk will continue to explore the repertoire of both composers. While their debut effort is not flawless, their arrangements never bore.


Tracks and Personnel

Magical Mystery

Tracks: Epistrophy; Criss Cross; Bemsha Swing; Ask Me Now; Rhythm-A-Ning; 'Round Midnight; Well, You Needn't; Pannonica; Eronel; Ugly Beauty; Magical Mystery~for Monk and Murakami; Blue Monk; In Walked Bud.

Personnel: John DiMartino: piano; Essiet Okon Essiet: bass; Victor Jones: drums.

Strayhornmonk

Tracks: Four in One; Blood Count; Bye-Ya; U.M.M.G.; Ask Me Now; Evidence; Boo Boo's Birthday; Monk's Point; Isfahan; Trinkle Tinkle.

Personnel: Gabriel Dalvit: alto sax; Nat Su: alto sax; Andreas Zitz: bass; Claudio Str?by: drums.


Shop

More Articles

Read Another Timbre’s Canadian Composers Series Multiple Reviews Another Timbre’s Canadian Composers Series
by John Eyles
Published: April 22, 2017
Read 440 Keys: A Batch of Piano Delights Multiple Reviews 440 Keys: A Batch of Piano Delights
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa Dos Ventos Multiple Reviews Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 17, 2017
Read Duke Ellington on Storyville Records Multiple Reviews Duke Ellington on Storyville Records
by Chris Mosey
Published: March 20, 2017
Read Lee Morgan On Music Matters Multiple Reviews Lee Morgan On Music Matters
by Greg Simmons
Published: March 6, 2017
Read Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Three New Releases from Peter Kuhn" Multiple Reviews Three New Releases from Peter Kuhn
by Dave Wayne
Published: August 4, 2016
Read "Jon Irabagon: Inaction is an Action & Behind the Sky" Multiple Reviews Jon Irabagon: Inaction is an Action & Behind the Sky
by Doug Collette
Published: May 1, 2016
Read "Pi Recordings 2016 Releases" Multiple Reviews Pi Recordings 2016 Releases
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: December 24, 2016
Read "Blue Side of Lonesome: Country Crooners on BGO" Multiple Reviews Blue Side of Lonesome: Country Crooners on BGO
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: October 23, 2016
Read "Christmas Roundup 2016: Aguankó, Jeff Collins, & Vinnie Zummo" Multiple Reviews Christmas Roundup 2016: Aguankó, Jeff Collins, &...
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 21, 2016
Read "Mysteries Of The Deep and Binary from Brian (Shankar) Adler" Multiple Reviews Mysteries Of The Deep and Binary from Brian (Shankar) Adler
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!