Joel Harrison: Straight, No Chaser (variations)

Oh man, there's something more than delicious about taking Monk's thing and funking with it. That's just what Joel Harrison has done here. “Straight No Chaser” is run headlong into some serious funk. The result is serious and stuttering fun. I'm a sucker for a good funk riff and there's plenty of that. Harrison kicks things off with some killer rhythm guitar that introduces the main thought: take Monk's riff and pull it into as many related shapes as you can. Some of the solos, especially by violinist Christian Howes and trumpeter Akinmuire, squish Monk's melody so much that it's like a musical funhouse mirror. The 'normal' breakpoints in those well-worn contours just aren't where they used to be. This is a good thing for all parties concerned, Monk himself in particular. Despite his curmudgeonly nature, I'd be willing to bet that he would have loved to hear his music inspiring new artists and being the driving force behind such creative interpretations.

May 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jessica Williams: Straight, No Chaser

"I seem to be in my Johnny Griffin bag here," Williams wrote of this stunning 13-minute track, "chorus after chorus after chorus, exploring one idea after another." The pianist starts off her solo with frolicking staccato runs after only briefly hinting at the well-known Monk theme, using a resounding left-hand bass figure to provide the momentum until the full trio robustly launches into the melody proper. Williams' marathon solo is a lesson in how not to repeat oneself and still remain fluidly and cogently in control. Captein and Brown provide encouraging and compelling support, and the leader's ongoing interplay with Brown in particular is remarkably intuitive. Williams' inventiveness nearly overwhelms, as she succeeds in reaching successive, diverse peaks of creativity. Brown's ecstatic drum solo, and his following delightful trades with Williams, are prime examples of his polished percussive talent and consummate Max Roach-influenced approach. Williams tosses in an appropriate nod to "Blue Monk" as she draws to a close this wonderful performance by arguably the best trio she's ever led.

April 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tete Montoliu: Straight, No Chaser

Thelonious Monk was unquestionably one of the greatest American composers of the 20th century. The fact that he also had a sparse piano style as distinctive and unique as his compositions put the final and definitive stamp on his body of work. A solo pianist such as Tete Montoliu, with his virtuosic and florid style, could either restrict his usual approach to better conform to Monk's roadmap, or just be himself and mold or adapt Monk to suit his own musical personality. Montoliu chose the latter path for his superb CD recital of Monk tunes.

The blind Catalonian could occasionally sound glib and superficial, letting his prodigious technique propel him through a piece with predictable, repetitious runs and little emotional depth. None of that is apparent on "Straight No Chaser." Tete starts out surprisingly with a tender, classically flavored short treatment of Monk's "Jackie-ing," with Monkish splays of dissonance for seasoning, before gliding seamlessly into the staccato theme of "Straight No Chaser." He unleashes daring single-note lines with firm left-hand commentary, sometimes bringing to mind the touch and glossy sound of Art Tatum, and at other times the exuberance of Bud Powell, as in his quick allusion to "Parisian Thoroughfare." Montoliu inventively mixes in a bluesy interlude, some pounding chords, and a walking bassline to add variety to his improvisation. The pianist's return to the melody gives way to a gentle coda and one final stabbed note in the best Monk tradition, as he craftily segues into the second tune of the program, "Reflections." This is Montoliu at his focused, creative best.

June 04, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mark Weinstein: Straight, No Chaser

Fluter Mark Weinstein's Straight No Chaser is a collection of five originals and five covers. He and his band exhibit exceptional skill and taste as they interpret these compositions. Weinstein plays the classic "Straight No Chaser" on a bass flute. You hear his deep and forceful breaths almost as much as you do the frantic notes that result. This causes his playing on this piece to have almost a scat-singing effect. The clanging of the flute's keys is quite audible as Weinstein aggressively attacks them. This is also cool sounding. Who would have thought of playing a flute low and rough? The band attacks the tune from the start. Guitarist Stryker is particularly impressive during his solo, after which "Straight No Chaser" becomes a swinging affair. As I have mentioned in other reviews of flute players, they must work extra hard to get their instrument to be more versatile. Weinstein should be credited for his imagination and successful effort to put the flute across in a new light on this cut.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gil Evans: Straight, No Chaser

Monk's 12-bar blues paraphrasing the opening French horn motif from Richard Strauss’s 1894 tone poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks is translated by Gil Evans into a post-bop romp showcasing trumpeter Johnny Coles, trombonist Curtis Fuller and unsung hero Steve Lacy. Those familiar with Gil's subtle, intricate orchestrations for Miles Davis, assembled with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, may be surprised by this chart's nonchalance, especially when layered ensemble repetitions of the theme gradually fracture into simultaneous improvisation by the lead players. Yet whether crafting precision timepieces for Miles or playing pranks on Monk, Gil Evans was a straight shot.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1951 version)

One of Monk’s earliest recordings, made at a time when there were fewer expectations of the eccentric pianist. (The title Genius of Modern Music was bestowed years later, when the collections of singles were compiled into two albums.) Art Blakey introduces the piece in his own way, smacking out a series of rim shots, before Sahib Shihab and Milt Jackson converse in unison. Monk plays his solo in a straight-ahead manner – his angularity would intensify a decade later – and then Shihab and Jackson take short, impressive solos. It’s a classic piece of bop. Still, to be fair, the entirety of the two volumes of Genius of Modern Music is a must-have for any Monk fan.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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