Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk

   Between masters of jazz, exact as it is in any other creative discipline, there are two opposite positions – first is occupied by master teachers and second by inspired visionaries. Teachers show the way to mastery, visionaries points the possible directions of development. Many artists are between these extremes, trying to find necessary balance. Some are unable to find this point, which is usually leading to the fiasco – frustrating lack of passion or excessive creativity leading even to autodestruction. But in the case of geniuses these dangerous attitudes are somehow connected not as balancing factors but in more complex way. One of such artists is Thelonious Monk, who was one of most unorthodox musicians in so rebellious generation. No surprise he is second most recorded  jazz composer after Ellington.
   The 80’s were hard times for jazz, the era of punk and rap melted in disco products, the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan Star Wars and rough economic policy reshape the perspectives of American culture. Jazz musicians tried to connect different genres and styles into one current of complex and creative music. Probably the best series of multistyle albums of the 80’s was Hal Willner’s productions of tribute albums. First was Amarcord Nino Rota (1981), then That’s the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984), Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (1985) and series of consecutive albums with music from Vintage Disney Films, Charles Mingus, once again Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Leonard Cohen, Sea Songs, Chanteys and American Folk Music. Second album with Monk’s themes and inspirations was real hit. Thank to carefully selected and diverse lineups all of included productions are unbelievably creative. This is what makes the undertaking the best chance for contemporary exposure of Monk’s ideas. Double LP comprises 23 pieces in renditions of avant-garde and most creative musicians available in 1984.

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984)

   In various lineups Willner collected great company of most creative artists from modern jazz veterans to new radicals, from avant-garde to rock and pop artists. Exploding Thelonious for overdubbing trombones by Bruce Fowler and Phil Teele with bassist Tom Fowler and unbelievably driving drummer Chester Thompson is probably shortest, most dense performance of Monk’s tune ever. But this is only the beginning of surprising events. Donald Fagen belongs to the few super professional musicians from pop side of the scene. He is playing synthesizers in Reflections with Steve Khan on guitars. Others are Peter Frampton solo in Work and Todd Rundgren in Four in One. Bounds with tradition are clear foundations to Dr. John’s solo piano Blue Monk performance which is so naturally enchanting and so close to blues or even zydeco. 
   Old jazz school is presented by duo of Monk’s comrades, Steve Lacy and Charlie Rouse performing Ask Me Now on unaccompanied saxophones and Sharon Freeman version of Monk’s Mood for 5 French horns with section – the first side of this album shows it is full of surprises. Steve Lacy is featured artist. In duo with Elvin Jones in Evidence they show pure understanding for the Monk tradition. Elvin Jones is playing with such power even 30 years after it gives goose-flesh. And again Steve Lacy solo Gallop’s Gallop and in closing piece Bemsha Swing with Gil Evans – both owe Monk a lot. The perfect tenor solo played in Misterioso as a special guest Johnny Griffin. There are some nice pieces of poetic tranquility and meditation, like in nostalgic tack piano rendition of Pannonica by Barry Harris or in Functional played by Randy Weston. 
   There is beautiful Joe Jackson’s chamber arrangement of ‘Round Midnight played under direction of Sharon Freeman and perfect Misterioso in The Carla Bley Band performance.  Vocal jazz presented in Friday the Thirteenth by duo with great sense of humor Bobby McFerrin and Bob Dorough with Dave Samuels on vibes, marimba and percussions. Phenomenal avant-garde musicians with saxophonist John Zorn, guitarist Arte Lindsay, pianist Wayne Horvitz and drummer M. E. Miller testing our flexibility in Shuffle Boil. Interesting esthetical work has been done in 3-guitars Brilliant Corners with Steve Swallow and Joey Barron and then the Jackie-Ing with additional horns section. Various renditions show how versatile and carrying are Monk’s ideas. They are present in every smaller or bigger band productions and this is the victory of all musicians engaged in this project and especially Thelonious Monk creating alternative world of modern music.

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