Frank Carlberg and Johnny O’Neal Play Monk

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.




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