Archie Shepp & The New York Contemporary Five: Monk's Mood
The New York Contemporary Five
Archie Shepp & The New York Contemporary Five (Storyville 8385)
Don Moore (bass), and J.C. Moses (drums).
Composed by Thelonious Monk.
Recorded: Copenhagen, November 15, 1963
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
Many early free jazz musicians found inspiration in Thelonious Monk, who was avant-garde long before there was even such a thing as free jazz. Among the experimentally inclined groups that tackled Monk, the New York Contemporary Five would not seem to be especially well-equipped for the task. As two of the free-er purveyors of "The New Thing," Saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Tchicai might have been especially ill-suited; Monk's often tortuous harmonic progressions ran contrary to their strengths as improvisers. That said, the musicians seem to recognize their limitations and interpret this tricky ballad accordingly. The obliquely harmonized arrangement concentrates on the statement of Monk's composed melody, with "out" embellishments underneath. Don Cherry sounds a drunken lead over the whinnying saxes, as bassist Moore and drummer J.C. Moses play it relatively straight. They wisely limit the performance to a single chorus, and the entire track clocks-in at a thrifty two-and-a-half minutes. It's not top-drawer Monk or NYC5, but it has a certain charm. More than anything, it illustrates a link (musical and spiritual) between the avant-gardes of successive jazz eras. Indeed, that might well have been NYC5's principal intent.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey