[JPL] Jangly Runs and Other Unmistakably Monkish Moves

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 22 19:02:01 EDT 2007

October 12, 2007
Music Review | Monk at 90 
Jangly Runs and Other Unmistakably Monkish Moves 
Wrapping up his solo performance at the World
Financial Center’s Winter Garden on Wednesday night,
the pianist Randy Weston tossed off a scrap of “Happy
Birthday to You.” That gesture, which followed a
free-associative medley of Thelonious Monk
compositions, came at a good time: about three hours
into a nearly five-hour concert in honor of Monk’s
90th birthday. As played by Mr. Weston, it felt like a
patently Monkish move. 

Naturally it wasn’t the only one on a program that
featured 19 pianists in solo formats, mainly drawn
from across the New York jazz firmament. But the most
interesting aspect of “Monk at 90” — produced by Jim
Luce and Sujatri Reisinger in conjunction with Fazioli
Pianoforti and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz —
was the panoply of approaches toward Monk’s music,
which abides its own logic and inhabits its own

Monk himself was a formidable solo pianist, and an
unmistakable one. During the prolific middle period of
his career, in the 1950s and ’60s — he died in 1982
but had withdrawn from the spotlight in the previous
decade — he made a handful of terrific solo
recordings, editorializing on standards as well as his
own songs. His gripping solo style, both artful and
seemingly casual, poses a unique challenge to any

Mr. Weston, who mastered this negotiation long ago,
began his mini-set with “Zulu,” one of his own vintage
tunes. (“You can hear the Monk influence,” he advised
by way of introduction, and indeed you could.) He was
one of only a few pianists on the program who seemed
keen on channeling Monk whole, as a physical force as
well as an idea. 

Rodney Kendrick was another. He delivered “Body and
Soul” as a ceremonial prelude, gently elasticizing the
time. On “Crepuscule With Nellie” he played several
jangly runs that brought Monk clearly to mind, though
the patient exposition was his own.

“Crepuscule” also provided the crux of Frank
Kimbrough’s expressive performance, which began and
ended in a spirit of dramatic indeterminacy. Through
jarring clusters and rumbling drones, he illuminated
Monk’s influence among modern successors like Keith
Jarrett. It was beautiful, and unnerving.

Cedar Walton and Fred Hersch offered refined
perspectives on Monk the composer. Mr. Walton played a
loping “Off Minor” and a gorgeous elaboration on
“’Round Midnight.” (Surprisingly, this was the only
instance of that theme.) Mr. Hersch, who came next,
played “Work” as a comfortable challenge, then
strolled thoughtfully through “Don’t Blame Me” — a
standard, like “Body and Soul,” that Monk played
memorably in solo renditions. 

Aaron Diehl, a product of the jazz program at
Juilliard, made his set a history lesson, touching on
James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington, as well as Monk’s
“Little Rootie Tootie.” He sounded exceedingly
careful, but in context his premise worked nicely.

Some other pianists on the program made the decision
to leave Monk out of the picture. This contingent
included a handful of classical players, like Juan
José Chuquisengo, who rollicked through Ravel’s
“Valse.” More disappointingly, it also included
jazz-literate pianists like Deidre Rodman and Rachel

Of course few people, in jazz or elsewhere, can do
what Geri Allen did: turn a jutting melody, like the
one from “Epistrophy,” into a high-voltage tour de
force, precarious and dazzling. Future iterations of
this piano marathon, which is scheduled to repeat
annually until Monk’s centennial, would do well to
keep Ms. Allen close at hand.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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