Saturday afternoon Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, worldwide via the German orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. The performance was detailed, subtle and spectacular, and the moment the music ended, the audience let out a huge cheer! Me too, in my living room, watching the livestream.
Then that night I was equally rewarded by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with new arrangements by the pivotal composer, Thelonious Monk, live in Rose Theater. All but one or two were premieres, most written by players in the band. Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis wrote two and was a frequent and welcome soloist in other people’s arrangements.
(Factoid: piece for piece, Monk’s music is arguably more recorded than Ellington’s, as I learned at the jazz talk prior to the concert.)
As host/saxophonist Ted Nash said from the stage, “We like to write for each other, to challenge each other.” The arrangers embedded lines from Monk’s recorded solos into their writing, playing hide-and-seek with the advantage going to those who know the originals in detail.
Four arrangements came from young people outside the band. One in particular — Matt Wong’s new vision of North of the Sunset from the Solo Monk album — stands out.
This transcription* of Monk’s solo recording shows the North of the Sunset melody …
True to how Monk wrote and played it, Wong separated some phrases with .. silence! Full stops, no new sound, just space for a few beats. It was startling, and fun.
More than once during The JALC Plays Monk, the arrangers used the creative technique of divvying up a melody and handing it back as a sequence of phrases from section to section, player to player. To my ear Wong went further and made North of the Sunset into a fugue with overlapping voices. Then Wynton Marsalis’s solo drew the blues out of the song. And to close, Wong floated an unconventional coda, not obviously tethered to North of the Sunset yet swimming in the same notes.
Here’s the full exhilarating program:
Eronel arranged by Victor Goines … solos by Carlos Henriquez, bass, and Goines, clarinet
Let’s Cool One arranged by Marcus Printup … Paul Nedzela, baritone sax; Dan Nimmer, piano
Shuffle Boil arranged by Ali Jackson … Sherman Irby, alto sax; Vincent Gardner, trombone
Misterioso with Round Midnight arranged by Jihye Lee … Marcus Printup, trumpet; Dan Nimmer, piano
North of the Sunset arranged by Matt Wong … Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Ted Nash, alto sax
Well, You Needn’t arranged by Sherman Irby … Camille Thurman, tenor sax; Elliot Mason, trombone; Joe Farnsworth, drums
Off Minor arranged by Wynton Marsalis … Dan Nimmer, piano; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet
Friday the 13th arranged by Kenny Rampton … Vincent Gardner, trombone; Kenny Rampton, trumpet
Ruby My Dear arranged by Joseph Block … Wynton Marsalis, trumpet
Ugly Beauty arranged by Wynton Marsalis … Dan Nimmer, piano
Little Rootie Tootie arranged by Esteban Castro … Sherman Irby, alto sax
Jackie-ing arranged by and featuring Ted Nash, alto sax, and the saxophone section
From Mahler to Monk, this was a Musical day.
Thelonious Monk’s 101st birthday month is almost over. Here in New York the re-invention has continued.
On Monday, October 8, the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble, led by a native of Finland now based in Brooklyn, played music from the album Monk Dreams Hallucinations and Nightmares (no punctuation) at Dizzy’s Club.
For the long arcs of the pieces, the Monk themes and memes as incidentals, the fearless and appealing broken octaves that persisted through the set, the solos and the quiet endings, I would see this band again.
There is also text. Dark text as Christine Correa recites/sings Abide With Me — the hymn is played piano-free on Monk’s Music (1958) — interjecting the phrase “Thelonious is dead” and referring to a winter night (he died February 17, 1982).
Maybe the Carlberg arrangement of Round Midnight overwhelms the song within, but Kurt Knuffke delivered a strong and original solo on cornet.
Everybody delivers, and I would try this band again! Expecting to be uneasy some of the time. (There’s a sample here.)
On Saturday night, the 13th, I was again on a barstool, this time at Smoke with two ardent Norwegian fans/friends who have followed and presented jazz for decades. We came for the Thelonious Monk Celebration featuring the Johnny O’Neal Quintet. The leader plays the piano of my dreams. On Monk’s I Mean You, I thought I heard a dash of Erroll Garner though I could see not a trace of effort. On Ask Me Now, alto saxophonist Antonio Hart’s playing and pleading summoned the memory of Johnny Hodges in the Ellington Orchestra. O’Neal’s voice is another pleasure. I wish I could find the words — he certainly can — though he left Monk behind when he sang A Sunday Kind of Love. Then came Alfie, Blue Monk, and a guest vocalist joining for La Belle Vie. Poof! It was over. Smoke is intimate. That’s why people love it. The next audience was lining up outside. I don’t live in Norway; I’ll be back.
There’s a feature about O’Neal’s CD In the Moment from Smoke Sessions here.
The guitarist has released an album of all Monk’s tunes. He calls it WORK and, introducing Miles Okazaki on Friday night at the Jazz Gallery, the MC said it’s the first album with all the pianist’s compositions in one place. Onstage, drummer Damion Reid was Okazaki’s partner, but his 70-track album WORK is solo.
Here are the Monk compositions that I think I heard in the first set: Locomotive, Worry Later (San Francisco Holiday), Misterioso, Introspection, Gallops Gallop (introduced by the guitarist), and — after a piece that I couldn’t identify — Crepuscule with Nellie. Work, the piece, was somewhere in the two sets that I heard but I can’t tell you where. No apparent set lists, just flow.
I love the concept and though it’s not unique to Okazaki, he is a fine practitioner. He gets inside a song, hears the parts and then proceeds to repeat, reduce, reflect, refract, rephrase, reorder, invert, inflate, combine …
As with Steelonious (see the next post), there’s no piano — Monk’s instrument — in WORK. Now I’m on my way to the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble for Monk Dreams Hallucinations and Nightmares at Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
In my phone I have a fake book in pdf format, with hand-printed lead sheets for almost 70 Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) compositions, from Ask Me Now to Worry Later. I’m trying to learn them.
So two Sundays ago my friend Marian Eines (of the brass band Zlatne Uste) and I met up at Barbès (small music room that often features brass bands) in Brooklyn for Mike Neer on lap steel guitar with music from his album Steelonious. Thelonious played piano.
Monk compositions are jazz essentials — the canon inside the canon — and Steelonious sings them with new voices and dances to different beats.
Epistrophy anticipates trumpeter Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder (a generation later). Ask Me Now has a sweet coda. In Off Minor, drummer Diego Voglino seems to conjure Gene Krupa. Nutty is a reggae. I Mean You is “Texas style,” in Neer’s words, and Round Midnight is “soft and pretty” with a wisp of Hawaii.
Just when I decide that Neer’s steel soars above and guitarist Nate Radley stays more rhythmic, they switch. Matt Lavoca on bass responds to everyone, always adjusting. Steelonious blows new air through Monk’s tunes.
Straight No Chaser has a march beat, Misterioso a bossa. The steel and the guitar divide the melody between them. To close, they play In Walked Bud but not at the original jaunty tempo. Slower.
Soon I’ll go to the Jazz Gallery for guitarist Miles Okazaki, whose solo album Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk, has iron — not steel — on the cover. It’s a picture of train tracks crossing in Rocky Mount, NC, where Monk grew up.
The angle of the sun changes around Labor Day, and that’s when — with a half dozen independent-minded friends — I migrated north to Upper Michigan and ferried to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.
We stayed two nights in the not-fancy lodge there. The rooms feature wide windows onto Lake Superior.
We hiked along Tobin Harbor to Scoville Point. Whether the path was stony or packed earth, hilly or flat along the water, it was quiet! And fun to briefly meet hikers coming back from several nights on the trail.
After the island, we relocated to Keweenaw National Historical Park outside Copper Harbor. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed Keweenaw in the 1930s with a grand lodge and a couple dozen cabins.
I sigh as I wish today’s federal government would conserve land today.
Changes are ahead. In July, Keweenaw was auctioned and sold to pay a $1.5 million debt to the US Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The new owner comes from Texas. He says he loves the Upper Peninsula. I hope he can keep Keweenaw natural and affordable.
We drove to Calumet where the extraordinary, century-old buildings were glowing in afternoon light. This beauty, built in 1900 at 330 Fifth Street and most recently a bank, appears to be for sale or recently sold. Touch the stones; they’re warm.
As I walked the two long main streets, marveling at the masonry, the opening words to a Woody Guthrie song crept in my mind: “Take a trip with me in 1913 to Calumet Michigan in the copper country …”
It’s the story of a Christmas Eve fire in the Italian Hall. Trying to escape, striking copper miners’ children were killed. I still feel the sadness. Calumet was lightly populated for my visit.
This photo of Abdullah El Gourd (with the guembri) and Randy Weston by Junenoire Mitchell comes from the French Institute/Alliance Française, New York. I put it on the JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater web page when we featured Randy Weston and his African Rhythms band onstage at NJPAC in Newark.
Here’s a link to a musical highlight with a long written narrative by me. There was so much to say!
Here, a Chick Corea quintet is at Montreux, playing his “Spain.”
At approx 10:30 from the top of this YouTube file, before the out chorus/finale, Chick feeds the audience an improvisation, one measure at a time, and the audience sings each measure back to him.
Because the phrases are short, it’s easy to transcribe them, and to transcribe the call-and-response is to learn it.
Whether you’re a singer, pianist, or playing something else, I hope you will agree! Let me know. BTW, if you click on the image of the transcription, it gets bigger, more readable.
The Tri-C Jazz Festival is outdoors and in, the weekend before the Fourth of July, on Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Tri-C is Cuyahoga Community College, a two-year school with a Jazz program. I would love to enroll. The Festival bookings by my friend Terri Pontremoli create continuities and comparisons that keep my mind happily busy, days later. Here’s some of what I saw …
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Dee Dee Bridgewater slept with a transistor radio under her pillow, the better to receive soul music after dark from WDIA-AM / Memphis. Now she is singing the repertoire — Al Green’s “Can’t Get Next to You,” Barbara Mason’s “Yes I’m Ready,” Mavis Staples’s “Why (Am I Treated So Bad),” Carla Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y Baby,” Elvis’s “Hound Dog,” Otis’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” All from her CD Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready.
That’s guest Kirk Whalum on the left, Bryant Lockhart on the right, and Dee Dee in stiletto heels after more than a year in flats. She says the shoes affect her performance. I’ve seen her Memphis show four times now and I love it more — sweet soul, Dee Dee’s miraculous vocal range, a euphonious band led by Dell Smith on the organ with back-up singers, the easy tempos, the comedy, the message to Vote in November.
In the 1970s-80s Old and New Dreams with Dewey Redman on tenor tipped its collective hat to Ornette Coleman’s quartets. Three players were from west of the Mississippi, and Ed Blackwell brought his jazzy street beat from New Orleans. Now Joshua Redman (Berkeley) tips his hat to Old and New Dreams with Still Dreaming — piano-free, melody-leading, harmonic possibilities rather than changes, and a drummer on parade. This group sounds fresh. Close listening is rewarded.
Joshua has footwork. He shifts his weight, lifts his knees and high-steps into the music, leading the quartet forward. The band members — Ron Miles (Denver), cornet; Scott Colley (LA and Texas in his past), bass; Brian Blade (Louisiana), drums. With exceptions noted, they composed the music — “New Year,” “Walls Bridges” by Dewey Redman, “Haze and Aspirations,” “It’s Not the Same,” “Unanimity,” and “Blues Connotation” by Ornette Coleman.
After Dreaming, another quartet appeared in full funky force in the lobby. Sax-o-matic from Quebec City ripped through Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, more. Terri discovered them online. They popped up indoors and out, always gathering a crowd.
Vinicius Cantuaria comes from Brazil. He sings in Portuguese and plays guitar.
I sat close to the percussionist, watching him choose among shakers and bells, his two standing drums. This is advanced samba. The musicians raise the intensity by adding beats inside the beat.
And most ’70s of all,
José James sang the Bill Withers songbook. He has the ideal voice for it — a little grainy. Sometimes he stops / restarts a phrase, as a DJ with a light finger on the turntable. With Brad Allen Williams, guitar; Takeshi Okioshi, keyboards; Ben Williams, bass; Nate Smith, drums, James closed with “Just the Two of Us” and “Lovely Day.”
Bill Withers was born on the Fourth of July, 1938. I missed a tribute to him at Carnegie Hall earlier this season, and seeing José James set helped to ameliorate that pain.
The three pieces on the June 8 concert were New York premieres in whole or part, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen composed two of them. Foreign Bodies opened on a full stage and above it a giant screen, the canvas for live-feed images of colorful filaments, pick-up sticks, morphing boxes and flaming orange peaks. The orange above seemed to speak to the bold orange proscenium extension, so far unused. Later in the concert, it would be the setting for an awesome dance.
A Foreign Bodies mixtape from the NYPhil offers the entire composition as three separate files on Spotify.
The screen had vanished along with about 1/3 of the orchestra when young soloist Pekka Kuusisto entered. Kuusisto gently combined his instrument with his whistling to begin the Violin Concerto by Daníel Bjarnason. The music shifted like weather, stirring the space, becoming gauzy then gathering weight. This piece was my favorite. Until what came next.
“Watch for the orange stage,” says the Foreign Bodies brochure handed out at the door, “a possible representation of a volcanic eruption.” Two Boston Ballet dancers on the bright colored strip at the stage lip and opened “Obsidian Tear,” choreography by Wayne McGregor to music by Salonen. A single violinist in a First Tier box played the first movement, Lachen verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt), energetically. When the music segued into Nyx for orchestra, half of dozen more male dancers appeared and the music grew massive with a wide trombone section that I loved. Very physical, this music! and the dance is powerful and athletic. It ranges from violent to tender with turns and leaps that in a romantic context would seem like pure grace.
David Geffen Hall can seem blank and boxy, but the colors and lighting transformed it for me. I sat in a great seat, nicely priced.