T.S. Monk Tentet
Eighty years after his birth, we're experiencing yet another revival of interest in the late Thelonious Monk, the first significant postwar jazz composer and arguably the most important to this day: a recent release by the extraordinary arranger Bill Holman has cast new light on Monk tunes that seemed to have revealed their last secrets, and an upcoming album places Monk in the hands of Fred Hersch. But this summer's Monk on Monk (N2K)--an unexpected chart-buster led by Thelonious's son, drummer T.S.--testifies loudest to the impact his changeling compositions have had on each new generation. Monk pere wrote distinctly pianistic songs that nonetheless translated perfectly to the horns in his own small bands, and then to the ten-piece orchestra first assembled for a famous 1959 concert in New York. Monk on Monk takes its cue from that band; it features eight gems by Thelonious, in sympathetic and sometimes sparkling arrangements by trumpeter Don Sickler. The music depends relatively little on rhythmic high jinks, so even though T.S. leads the band, with a drumming style that combines Day-Glo punch with a draftsman's clarity, he's wisely assembled especially qualified hornmen and a distinctive pianist. Terrific young tenor man Willie Williams plays bright, pungent solos; Howard Johnson, a veteran virtuoso of baritone sax and tuba, plays both here; and two pianists, Ronnie Matthews and guest soloist Sir Roland Hanna--one of the very few who echoes Thelonious's idiosyncratic technique in his ponderous swing and occasional use of blunt, clanging chords--fill the old man's shoes. The group also features trombonist Eddie Bert, who played on those old nine-piece recordings, and, in a last-minute change, alto saxist Jon Gordon. A past winner of the Monk Institute's annual competition, Gordon recaptures some of the spirit Phil Woods brought to that first Monk orchestra four decades ago. The popular piano pedant Marcus Roberts opens the show with his trio, and given his own past investigation of Monk's music in programs at New York's Lincoln Center, I wouldn't be surprised if he also joined the tentet for a number. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-292-3000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Warren Montbooth.