VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Monk Covers Mixtape”
Source: Breath of Life – (BoL Mixtape – October 26, 2009)
There are at least two ways I could get to writing this section. I could try to go into detail about each recording (since there are 24 tracks, it’s obvious I won’t take that tack). The other thing is to give a brief into and leave it to your ears.
I’d like to be brief but there is so much I want to say.
First, all of this is Monk’s music. Listen to how Monk’s music inspires these musicians to stretch and bend, and take roads seldom trod. And Monk prods not just the pianists, and not just the soloists, Monk also makes the arrangers work, makes the drummers do double duty: swing while pushing the music forward.
From the opening Afro-Latin rhythms on “Little Rootie Tootie" by Jerry Gonzalez and his Fort Apache Band, to Danilo Perez’s closing trio track on which this amazing man chooses to play two Monk compositions simultaneously, the rhythmicly tricky “Evidence,” mostly in the bass clef with his left hand, and the finger-busting “Four In One,” in the treble cleft with his right hand. This is what jazz is suppose to be about—music you would never expect, music you rejoice as soon as you grasp what is going on.
There are too many highlights in this two-hour, twelve-minute program to give each its just due. Suffice it to say, this is an exhilarating set, full of both morsels and mouthfuls of musical delights.
Believe it or not, the real difficulty was in cutting this program down to two hours. When I had finally settled on the tracks I wanted to include, I had four versions of each composition but that proved far too long, so I cut back to three variations. I wish I could have included some of the beautiful music that’s left out. But alas, we gotta do what we got to do.
The idea was to give you Monk doing his own music over in the classics section and then give you contemporary variations in the covers section. Actually, I started with the idea of building on Jerry Gonzalez’s brilliant imaging of Monk as a Latin music composer from Jerry’s great album Rumba Para Monk. And then I said, apropos of Carmen McRae, why not include some vocal versions of these songs. Then I started playing both sides against the middle. I wanted to have deep Monk performances and match them with deep variations but also wanted to use the music that was on Jerry’s album, but then it quickly got complicated, and I chucked all of that aside. I went back to Monk performances I knew I wanted to use and then spent about a day or so checking out a vast assortment of variations.
Of course, there were surprises along the way, especially among the pianists, some of whom outdid themselves. No matter how much music one takes in, there is always more to get to, more to digest, whether that more is Monk’s son, drummer T.S. Monk who leads a killing band—Monk younger gets two appearances on this Mixtape—or whether it is an extended reading of “Ruby, My Dear” by West Coast legend Horace Tapscott, whose investigations are a sonic biography of a massively important woman. There is just so much music to appreciate, too much to dig in one lifetime, hence this Mixtape is an effort to assist in your music appreciation by giving you a manageable plethora of references to explore more fully at another time.
The final thing to note is that I was not going for any particular style. Some of the selections are lyrical romances, others are ebullient shouts and hollers, damn near reckless excursions with the musicians pulling out all the stops. Straight or bent, all approaches are appreciated.
This is the music of Thelonious Monk. But it’s not only Monk. These are also a crew of master musicians extending themselves by using Monk’s music as a launching pad.
Whether you’ve never heard these versions before, or whether you are very familiar with the musicians on this set, I guarantee you, you’ll be delighted by a lot of the music herein. The playlist offers as many hotlinks to the music as are currently available.
Enjoy the music of Thelonious Monk as interpreted by a marvelous assortment of master musicians. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Monk Covers Mixtape Playlist
13 Subway, Cologne – Bobby Hutcherson & Tete Montoliu
14 Monk At Town Hall and More – Lydian Sound Orchestra
15 This Thing To Share – Laurent Coq & Blowing Trio
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