BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

THELONIUS MONK: “Les Laisons Dangerouses” – Double Set CD
Sam Records & Saga

Thelonious Monk, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums; Charlie Rouse & Barney Wilen, tenor Saxophone.

June is Black Music Month. On April 22, 2017, a limited edition, deluxe 2-LP set of never-before-released THELONIUS MONK music, the results of a French film soundtrack, made its debut. It was released as a vinyl, in celebration of Record Store Day. My hands were actually trembling as I broke open this CD package that became available for public consumption this month. I was full of expectation, excitement and anticipation of hearing something amazing by one of my favorite, iconic, American composer/pianists.

Monk’s film score accompanied a 1960 Roger Vadim French film titled, “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. It features Monk’s famous group: Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on double bass and Art Taylor drumming. Additionally, the French producer added the popular French, tenor sax man, Barney Wilen. It was Wilen’s old manager, Marcel Romano, that led to this discovery. Romano, who died in 2007, was the custodian of tapes by Barney Wilen. Marcel Romano is the man behind this project and well-respected in both France and the U.S. as a producer, jazz journalist and concert promoter. In his heyday, Romano brought many great jazz artists to the European public attention. The record company was looking for unreleased material by Wilen, the French saxophonist. Imagine their shock when they ran across some reel-to-reel tapes with the label in big bold letters, THELONIUS MONK.

“Rhythm-a-ning opens disc #1 with Thelonius playing solo, but soon joined by the swift, spiritual, virtuoso saxophone of Rouse. In liner notes, Brian Priestley recalls that Monk’s original release of “Rhythm-a-ning” was in 1957 on an album with Art Blakey. His solo introduction on this recording is a bit different. Monk seems to incorporate a piece of Mary Lou Wiliams’ composition, “Walkin’ and Swingin,’ “into the intro. Mary Lou and Monk were good friends and years earlier, Andy Kirk had recorded the Williams composition around 1936. Monk’s intro-lines sound very similar to one of Kirk’s melodic lines and this could be a cordial and creative nod from Monk, in appreciation of Williams, his friend and mentor, by using an interlude from Mary Lou’s composition.

This film score was recorded during Thelonius Monk’s prime in the late 1950s, when he was changing the concept of jazz and jazz piano. He has composed everything on this 2-record set, except “By and By” (We’ll Understand It By and By) composed by Charles Albert Tindley and arranged by Monk. In the studio, Monk was uninterested in observing any time constraints for movie scenes and unconcerned about the motion picture’s theme. He simply went into the studio and recorded three hours of unconstrained music. Later, it would take master editors and the film producer to patch and paste the music into perfect place.

Listening to Monk play the song dedicated to his beloved wife, “Crepuscule with Nellie”, is an experience of pure art appreciation. This double set CD comes with a fifty-six-page booklet that dissects the music with essays and opinions, and offers never-before-seen photos from the recording session at Nola Penthouse Sound Studio in New York City. It was recorded by engineer, Tom Nola, on July 27, 1959.
The songs on this piece of art are familiar. Thelonius Monk didn’t compose anything really new for this film. I was especially pleased with “Well You Needn’t” that stretched past the borders of predictability and into some new musical spaces and spheres.

All you Monk fans will enjoy hearing, back-to-back “Pannonica” played by this legendary pianist/composer, twice as a solo and the third time with his quartet. Blissful!

In 1951, the New York City authorities revoked Thelonius Monk’s Cabaret Card, which left him with six years of struggling to make a living, since without a card you could not perform. It’s said they claimed he possessed heroin, and that the charges were trumped up and false. By the time of this film scoring, the exceptional Mr. Monk was finally working again, non-stop, and had a six-month contract playing at the Five Spot in NYC. His “Brilliant Corners” album was receiving critical acclaim and at last, Monk was busier than he had ever been. At the age of forty, the prolific composer/performer won the coveted Downbeat Magazine Jazz Poll, beating out competitors Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Earl Hines. His manager at that time, Harry Colomby, says he was inundated with gig calls for his now super popular client. With everything going so well, as life has a habit of doing, the tables would soon be turned over, spilling success into the cruel carpet of circumstance.

In 1958, Jim Crow was alive and well, thriving on racism and inequality throughout the great United States. When Monk, Charlie Rouse and the Baroness, Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Nica) got into a car, leaving New York City for a gig in Baltimore, they hadn’t a clue what misfortune lay ahead. Monk was thirsty and they stopped for a drink at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Castle, Delaware. No one thought they would find the ugly practice of prejudice in Delaware. Not only were they refused service, the police were called, and the officers conducted an illegal stop and search, pulling over the $19,000 Bentley the trio was riding in and when Monk objected, he was beaten, handcuffed and tossed to the floor of the patrol car. The arresting officers were furious to find two black men with a white woman, and during their search into Nica’s luggage, they found marijuana and a bottle of pills. After this arrest and the ultimate release of Monk, after he paid a hefty fine, to make a bad situation worse, once again New York City revoked Monk’s Cabaret Card. Shortly after, Thelonius Monk was hospitalized with a complete mental breakdown and spent time in Rivercrest Sanitarium in Long Island. At this same time, his latest LP, “Monk’s Music” was listed as one of the five best albums of that year. So, this was the backdrop for his trip to France and his state of mind for the recording of this rare and sensitive film score.

There is one song on this CD that, until now, had never been studio recorded. A 2-minute-47-second rendition of “Light Blue”. It ends abruptly, as if a scene in the movie had faded to black, with Art Taylor’s drums slapping the listener across the face, in a beautiful way. The rhythm beneath the melody is oddly unique. You will appreciate the extended, fourteen-minute ‘live’ recording of Monk producing “Light Blue” and insisting on this very odd and infectious drum beat he fell in love with and demanded that Art Taylor keep repeating. Monk was captivated by his percussive riff. On Side two of this recording, you hear Monk himself telling his trio how and what to play as he arranges the tune on the spot. I feel like a fly on the wall at the recording session as the trio struggles to come to grips with the piano genius and his unique ideas. You actually hear their conversations and Monk’s insistent instructions.

This is a precious piece of history and a legacy to the composition and arrangement skills of Thelonious Monk. It’s a must for any serious jazz collector. Why? Because Monk transformed and injected this film and the resulting CD with a giant dose of Avant Garde creativity and individuality that allowed the film a legacy of brilliance. Now, I find myself eager to view the motion picture.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE NEW VISION SAX ENSEMBLE – “MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME”
Independent Label

Diron Holloway, soprano & alto saxophones/clarinet; James Lockhart, alto saxophone; Jason Hainsworth, tenor saxophone: Melton R. Mustafa, baritone saxophone.

Frankly, I miss the piano, bass and drums associated with a standard rhythm section. I’m used to hearing a trio beneath most reed sections. The New Vision Sax Ensemble makes me re-think this premise. Here are four professional educators and musicians who formed an exploratory saxophone group in 1999, founded by the baritone sax player, Melton R. Mustafa. Their idea was to perform standard jazz songs that people know and love, but using only reed instruments. Inspired by the work of the 29th Street Sax Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet, this coterie began gigging around South Florida and soon became one of the premier sax quartets in that area. They have perfected a ‘flair for entertaining’ according to their liner notes, and have mastered interactivity with their audiences.

Although their repertoire on this CD leans towards jazz, they are known to embrace classical, R&B, pop, Ragtime, Latin, Funk and even Spiritual music in their concerts. My favorites on this recording are “Round Midnight”, that is performed gorgeously and I didn’t miss the rhythm section at all. Additionally, I enjoyed “Selections from Porgy and Bess”, an eleven-minute exploration of Gershwin’s wonderful score from the theatrical and successful “Porgy and Bess” Broadway play. The CD release date is June 12th.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

JORIS TEEPE & DON BRADEN – “CONVERSATIONS” featuring Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson
Creative Perspective Music

Joris Teepe, bass; Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute; Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson, drums.

Teepe & Braden crossed paths in 1992 and struck up a conversation that has lasted twenty-five-years. Consequently, the title of this CD seems quite appropriate. Adding two drummers to the mix, who contribute singularly on various tracks, these two jazz giants are often booked as the “Trio of Liberty.” Chick Corea’s original composition, “Humpty Dumpty” opens their CD and surprisingly, although composed by the esteemed Mr. Corea, I don’t miss the piano. Braden and Teepe are individually amazing musicians, and their interpretation of this song is interesting, creative and performed with improvisational ebullience. This is my kind of jazz, straight ahead, engaging and with each musician being a musical maven in his own right. Teepe and Braden fill up the space with sound and notes flying like meteors through the night. Joined by either Jackson or Wilson on drums, each song shimmers and shines, star-like, presenting ginormous technical ability and weaving familiar melodies in unfamiliar ways. The two old friends converse with their instruments. When one takes a breath, the other fills the space with musical anecdotes and stories.

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

“Framed by rich and varied tunes, strong and supple grooves and emotional expression, the improvisations are really a manifestation of exuberant adventure for us. We create, exchange, explore and develop all kinds of ideas – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically and more. …We really have fun while doing so.”
* * * * * * * * * * *

June 6, 2017 – Tuesday

The Comey interrogation awoke me early this morning. The former FBI Director, fired by our 45th President of the United States, was giving his side of the contentious relationship he had with President Donald Trump and asserting, that without a doubt, the Russians are deliberately seeking to influence our country in a negative way. After that, I viewed nearly three-hours of Comey’s televised testimony before the congressional committee. Then, I put on Laura Campisi’s new CD to change the energy in the house.

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

Laura Campisi, vocals; Ameen Saleem, double bass; Glanluca Renzi, electric bass; Greg Hutchinson, drums; Flavio Li Vigni, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Zach Brock, violin; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet; Jonathan Scales, steel pan; Martin Pantyrer, baritone sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; Emilio D. Miller, percussion.

She has a little-girl, high-pitched voice that sounds innocent and vulnerable. Campisi’s style is unique and recognizable. She sings with a distinct foreign accent; one that I could not readily identify. On cut #3, Giovanni Falzone’s trumpet addition is sometimes dissonant to Campisi’s melody. His horn growls passionately in the background during his muted performance. Nevermind! Campisi is strong in her projection and pitch. She can hold her own. “Double Mirror” is her artistic debut, a recorded venture featuring her voice and songwriting skills. Her original concept was to keep the production simple and use just a trio for accompaniment, but she changed her mind. To reflect her new life, she uses two rhythm sections; one American and the other Italian. The trumpet, sax and violin players came later.

I learn, from the CD notes, that Laura Campisi arrived in New York City from Palermo, Sicily in Italy. She sings and speaks in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Sicilian, Neapolitan and Punjabi. Impressive! However, I wish she had included her lyrics in her CD packaging, because I cannot always understand her words. I reach for my headphones to listen more intently. She has composed seven of thirteen songs featured on this recording. I’m enchanted with the World Music arrangements and her sparkling, crystal clean vocals that tinkle and spray the room with improvised sounds and lyrical stories. For example, on cut #8, “Nardis”, she mimics wild birds and restless animals before giving us spoken word over drums and bass. Enter a classical-sounding, electric bass and her song begins. She’s singng in tribute to “Nardis”, a miles Davis composition. After listening to her rendition, I played the Miles Davis arrangement featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. It was recorded ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard and It’s miles away from her interpretation. On her recording, Campisi and the bass and drums play tag with their instruments, chasing each other playfully. Shei tells us it’s our lucky day because we are going to meet Nardis, who is like an ocean shore. As she begins calling him, the groove is set up and finally, after a prolonged introduction, she sings the Miles Davis melody, one time down and then it’s over.

On “I Love You Porgy” she performs with upright bass, electric bass guitar and drums, strutting her voice out front like a reed instrument. Laura Campisi incorporates jazz into a World Music Stage. Her music reflects her Italian roots, her love of Mediterranean influences and she spices it up with the South American music of Argentina. You see, she recorded her vocals in Buenos Aires, where she added stellar new Latin players to this project. Her rendition of the popular “Porgy” Nina Simone hit record is very emotional and she makes it uniquely her own.

Listening to this project, I hear shades of Rock and Folk music. The jazz comes in as an interplay between her band members, who find freedom improvising over her original chord changes and her vocals. Of course, improvisation is one of the most important elements of jazz, but I’m not sure this CD falls completely into the jazz category. On more recognizable and familiar tunes like “Love For Sale,” you can hear Campisi’s extraordinary ability to change the familiar into the unexpected.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
URBANITY – “URBAN SOUL”
Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/sitar; Phil Turcio, keyboards/piano/programming.

At the age of eighteen, Albert Dadon, known artistically as Albare, was in search of a pianist for his band. Phil Turcio took the job. They became good friends and musical soulmates, with their paths intersecting for the next twenty-seven-years. So it’s not surprising that they call themselves Urbanity and have recorded this project together. To promote this CD, they currently are touring the United States, however, they are based in Melbourne, Australia.

Utilizing keyboard, piano, synthesizer programmer, guitar and sitar, these two musicians have created a fat, smooth jazz sound. It’s hard to believe that just two musicians have put together such an orchestrated album of music, using drum machines and programming to set the grooves, embellished by their creativity, they establish repeatable and catchy melodic phrases.

Starting with “The Mind Reader,” they manage to present a medium tempo, danceable groove with the two and the four beats slapping like hand-claps on the drum programmer. Albare’s guitar work is outstanding and Phil Turcio compliments each tune with his keyboard and piano talents. He’s also responsible for the synthesized programing. “You’re in my Dreams” has a haunting melody against a backdrop of jazz chord-changes, with the programming giving the arrangement an ethereal feel. I was surprised when I realized that they use a line very close to the verse of Michael Jackson’s hit record, “I Can’t Help it”, written by Susaye Green and Stevie Wonder. It’s not enough to be accused of sampling the melody, but it tip-toes around the well-respected tune at certain unexpected places.

Another one of my favorite cuts on this CD is “Angie”, the only song written by other composers. (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). It has energy and an interesting melody. Another favorite is “Something Sweet”. Urbanity’s arrangements are hot and this is easy listening R & B at its best, with jazz overtones.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: