Roy Haynes: Bright Mississippi

Since beginning his professional career with a stint in Luis Russell's big band in 1945, Roy Haynes has consistently colored his drumming with the "Latin tinge." He has stated in many interviews that he often thinks of his tom-toms as timbales during solos, and his frequent playing of time on the hi-hat (instead of standard ride-cymbal swing patterns) often incorporates authentic Latin rhythms. Nowhere is that Latin influence better represented than on this terrific 1999 half-studio/half-live date with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci. This is a deceptively complex, calypso-infused version of the catchy Monk tune – its playful, interactive ease would certainly run aground without these three rowing masters manning the oars at Boston's Scullers.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Abbey Lincoln: Blue Monk (2006)

Abbey Lincoln

In converting from chanteuse to provocateur, Abbey Lincoln became a terrible scold. The former Ebony magazine cover girl (June 1957), extolled therein for her "striking physical resemblance (vital statistics: 36-24-37)" to all-American pin-up Marilyn Monroe, and whose upcoming Riverside LP That's Him! would boast a cover photo of the luscious Miss L. practically falling out of her dress, had within two years reinvented herself. In 1959, Ebony's sister publication Jet announced "The New Abbey Lincoln," who "resented the role of glamour girl." According to Jet, "just as the doors of swank cafes were opening to her," Abbey balked. "I really don't fit in," she explained. "I'm a black woman and I have to sing about things I feel and know about—jazz." Comparisons to Marilyn Monroe were jettisoned; white standards of beauty no longer obtained. "I demand that I be respected as a dignified Negro woman," demanded the erstwhile "tan Venus."

By 1961, Abbey's attitude had so metamorphosed through militant feminism and racial victimization that her rendering of "Blue Monk" took on the self-righteous severity of a lecture by Emma Goldman. For her album Straight Ahead, Lincoln paired her own socially reproachful lyrics with Thelonious Monk's apolitical tune, and even her wordless singing of the melody following Coleman Hawkins's solo became somehow taunting and accusatory. Too much 'tude, Dude.

Forty-five years later, at age 76, Ms. Lincoln revisits "Blue Monk" with less drama but dramatically superior results. Malice has succumbed to maturity. This is a wonderfully familial performance. And it's not just the laid-back backwoods backing. It's also in Ms. Lincoln's voice, no longer clenched-fist sisterly resentful and vindictive, but open-armed grandmotherly wise and reflective.

Of course, Thelonious himself would probably have blanched at this setting of his signature tune featuring overdubbed countrified bouzouki, Dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar and cittern slicker Larry Campbell. Back in 1957, when its composer performed "Blue Monk" on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, such corn pone—officially still called Hillbilly Music—was off-limits at such blue monkeries as Greenwich Village's Five Spot Café, where country was about as welcome as Thelonious would have been on the bill of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Yet Abbey Lincoln's down-home update is nevertheless a telling tribute to Monk's rugged individualism. And best of all, this isn't propaganda preached harshly in sunlight. It's truth told calmly by moonlight.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Roy Hargrove: Ruby, My Dear

Back in 1989, when the young trumpet phenom Roy Hargrove was still establishing himself as a voice to be reckoned with, he got together a group of talented sidemen to record what were then neglected gems that had not yet become standards. His telling choice of the Thelonious Monk ballad "Ruby, My Dear" was right on the mark. Exquisitely assisted by the underappreciated Antonio Hart, whose deep-timbered solo is almost Webster-esque in its approach, the song is done to poignant perfection. The subtle Al Foster on brushes and Scott Coley on bass combine with pianist John Hicks to support this marvelous rendition. For his part, Hargrove shows a deep respect and sensitivity for the music in his Hubbard-like solo, where he extracts his own sense of pathos from his horn. After the tempo changes from slow to medium, Hart once again joyfully spreads his wings, playing in a more distinctively personal and flowing voice. Hicks plays a nice albeit short solo before Hart returns to his deep, drawn-out Webster-like sound. Hargrove should be applauded for his astute judgment in material as well as his generous showcasing of Hart's considerable tonal talent on this fine piece. This is an enjoyable effort worthy of repeated listening.

May 03, 2008 · 1 comment


Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-A-Ning

One of the many strengths of Art Blakey's musical leadership was his ability to bring new musicians on board without sacrificing the overall sound or approach of the Jazz Messengers. Even when Thelonious Monk enters the picture, you may ask? Well, ultimately, yes.

The first half of the track is more like a Monk recording than a Messengers recording. Blakey is noticeably subdued, and although his signature pounding hi-hat pulse is still present, he lightly breaks the rhythm more like Roy Haynes than like Art Blakey. Blakey appears to be taking the backseat and allowing Monk to run the show. As the track progresses and the other musicians begin to solo, however, Blakey raises the intensity level, and the soloists take notice and answer the call. All of sudden, even though Monk's comping presence is felt throughout, the Messenger service is back in full swing – replete with Blakey's big rolls between solos and signature solo licks to conclude the tune. The presence of Monk and his tunes on this '57 session makes for a fascinating study of the collision of dominant jazz personalities.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Hank Jones: Bemsha Swing

Hank Jones was already an established pianist when Thelonious Monk, who was his elder by a year, came to prominence. Here, decades after Monk's death, Jones makes one of Monk's most famous tunes his own, bending it to his mild manner without being unfaithful to its spirit. Where Monk carved his works in marble and granite, Jones works with wood, velvet and silk, and his swing, touch, accents and voicings are a constant source of wonder. All the more when he's supported by such empathic companions as Mraz and Mackrel.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Ellery Eskelin: Wee See

This theme suits perfectly the trio that Ellery Eskelin has formed with Parkins and Black. It's angular and allows for sonic exploration in the repeated exposition of the short melody, and for random chorusing by adventurous musicians such as these three. Black's drums, even when they don't solo, are a constant source of rhythmic and sonic surprise in the way they support his partners, and the tenor's tough phrasing as well as the unique way Parkins plays her accordion contribute to a most interesting version of one of Monk's little masterworks.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis (featuring Charlie Parker): 'Round Midnight

This is one of Charlie Parker’s most unusual recordings. The date was led by Miles Davis, who wrote two of the three tunes recorded that afternoon. The musicians were supposed to record Thelonious Monk’s "Well You Needn’t" but couldn’t complete a master before the recording studio closed. So they switched to Monk’s "‘Round Midnight." This is the only recording on which Bird and Sonny Rollins appear together—both on tenor sax. Parker takes his solo on the song’s opening and closing bridge. Sonny’s solo is on the main theme. Because Parker was signed to Verve at the time, he couldn’t record under his own name. So he was known on the album as Charlie Chan, recording what may be the best version of this jazz perennial.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Steve Lacy: Evidence

Monk's repertoire has been a recurring center of interest in Steve Lacy's career, and he tackled it on many occasions with different partners, often without piano. This particular case differs from others first because these tapes went unreleased for 10 years, and second because they involve a short-lived half-European band with trumpet and vibes, a rather unusual lineup for a Lacy band. Not all musicians are equally interesting here, but every time the highly original Lacy plays the highly original Monk, there's something worth checking. Indeed Lacy's solo, though rather short, is among his most convincing.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Steve Coleman: 'Round Midnight

During this set of concerts at a now-defunct Parisian club, Steve Coleman explored different types of music, among which this Monk standard that stands as a unique piece in the alto player's discography. Coleman doesn't play this song in the usual dramatic way, nor does he try to explore the harmonies in an abstract manner. The organic sound of his alto progressively drags the theme into the dense fabric of polyrhythm woven by bass and drums, in the best M-base tradition, and the melody fits perfectly in this context. Andy Milne's solo confirms this assertion: in Coleman's cyclical conception of music, standards are welcome and are bound to display a new potential. After all, isn't it what one expects from classics?

January 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Fred Hersch: Misterioso

The sophisticated stylizing of Fred Hersch is used to great effect on this rhythmically syncopated Monk tune, creating musical counterpoint that seems to reinvigorate this often-played composition. Hersch’s slow and deliberate start builds to a climactic tempest of sound, while Gress and Waits build tension in tandem with him as he accentuates the note-by-note progression that embodies the melody. After creating the buildup, Hersch manages to finish the piece in a characteristically understated single-note fashion that brings it all together in true Monk style. This is an underrated trio. While Hersch’s approach is more florid than Monk’s ever was, his flawless technique and mastery of the tune's essence makes this a worthy alternative reading of the venerable classic.

January 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Jack Reilly: 'Round Midnight

In an extraordinarily brief two minutes and 43 seconds, the master pianist, composer and somehow remarkably unheralded Jack Reilly takes this classic Thelonious Monk masterpiece and weaves his own magic, creating a truly unique and refreshing take on this well-worn classic. His decidedly classical influence on the introduction to the song elevates the listener to carefully consider his phrasing on the familiar melody that follows. Reilly’s fondness for the harmonic sensitivity of Bill Evans is apparent half way through the piece and in his very tasteful Evanesque finale. His use of tension and release is masterfully employed throughout to create a harmonic feast and gives this timeless American classic a new feel while brilliantly holding true to the original tune’s deceivingly simple yet enduring appeal.

January 17, 2008 · 1 comment


Brad Mehldau: Monk's Dream

Brad Mehldau’s virtuosic version of Thelonious’s “Monk’s Dream” provides the listener with a prime example of a jazz musician improvising based on the melody of a tune until he/she finds an idea that they wish to instantly develop. Throughout this solo, Mehldau time and again dips into the “Monk’s Dream” melody and then embellishes it with improvised statements. The melodic improvisation intensifies for well over four minutes until Mehldau begins an amazing rhythmic/harmonic variation (beginning at approxi- mately 5:20 and lasting until 6:45) that still references the melody as the solo reaches its climax. It is a remarkable improvised statement that Mehldau’s Vanguard audiences have been absorbing for many years now. Also note the rare Rossy solo (in the form of trading fours with Mehldau) at the conclusion of Mehldau’s improvisation.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Boo Boo's Birthday

Nearly 30 years after Sonny Rollins’ inventive piano-less tenor recordings from the Vanguard, Joe Henderson released these piano-less tenor recordings made with the all-star rhythm section of Ron Carter and Al Foster. These three masters weave flawlessly in and out of solidified, swinging time and free, exploratory sections. This allows the musicians to explore and reinvent the tunes they are playing through interspersed combinations of trio, duet, and unaccompanied playing. Some of Henderson’s strongest playing from this period in his career can be heard on these recordings – there is a delicate balance of extreme intensity and fervor combined with the understated, “less is more” brilliance of an older, wiser Henderson. Essential tenor recordings.

January 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: 'Round Midnight

Due in large part to the concluding chapter of Ken Burns’s engaging yet contentious documentary Jazz, the return of Dexter Gordon to the United States (after 14 years of living in Europe) has gradually become an iconic moment in the history of modern jazz. While there has always been brilliant jazz being performed since the music’s creation nearly a century ago, the late 1970s may have been a time when many jazz fans were nostalgic for the bebop and post-bop giants who had dominated the jazz clubs in decades past. Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return set at the Vanguard satiated some of those desires with an exciting set of music backed by Woody Shaw’s working quartet. Dexter is clearly impacted by his reception and plays especially emotionally and intensely on this Monk classic.

January 13, 2008 · 0 comments


George Russell: 'Round Midnight

During Thelonious Monk's lifetime, jazzmen widely admired but seldom braved his tunes. "'Round Midnight" was the exception because it resembles a conventional ballad, which allowed musicians to honor Monk without having to cope with his strange melodies and weird chords. Turning this wisdom on its head, George Russell approached "'Round Midnight" unconventionally. During a ghostly one-minute intro, Russell strums inside his piano à la composer Henry Cowell’s The Banshee (1925), while Ellis and Baker manipulate plunger mutes to mimic nightmares at a livery stable. All this resolves into an astonishing 5-minute Eric Dolphy solo, lyrically teetering on the precipice of Free Jazz without plunging into the abyss. A startling and unforgettable performance.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments


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