10 jul. 2005

Most of Monk's compositions are not conventionally good vehicles for jazz improvisation. The slower ballads are especially recalcitrant to simple blowing over the changes, and are not really played that much by other musicians. I'm thinking of "Crepuscule for Nellie" or "Pannonica," or even "Ruby, My Dear." The many blues and blues-like compositions and certain up-tempo numbers are played more often: "Straight No Chaser," "Well You Needn't," or even "Bemsha Swing," from where this blog got its name. "Round Midnght" may be the most familiar tune in the Monk book.

Another fascinating aspect is how quickly simplicity can change to complexity. There are compositions like "Thelonious" that are barely more than one note. Yet his music can be extremely difficult to play correctly. This is a composer's music, and the compositions themselves can get in the way of certain standard jazz practices. You can see critics complaining about the repetitions and the monotonous format in the Monk discography in the Columbia years. Yet most of the tunes he wrote appear only a few times, and some only once.

I feel I understand so little about this music, and don't even quite understand my own fascination with it. Certainly his approach to rhythm is quite distinctive, and quite distinct from the bebop norm. The harmonies are wonderfully angular as well. Then there's the peculiar sound and technique of his piano playing.

2 comentarios:

Taylor Brady dijo...

Jonathan,

Wondering if you've heard the new "Monk's Casino" recordings by Alexander von Schlippenbach? It's a box-set recording of what purports to be all of Monk's compositions. Interesting, your comments re: composition, in this regard. Schlippenbach and the rest of the band are all coming out of "post-jazz" Euro-improv (though admittedly, in S's case, with years of deep engagement with Monk). The first thing that struck me while listening to these sets was indeed how little there is of free blowing in any of it, how much, even when further taken apart harmonically and rhythmically (tho' some are read fairly straight) these compositions ask to remain compositions first, and occasions for tangents and lines of flight a distant second.

Anyway, if you haven't heard it yet, it's worth picking up.

Taylor

Jonathan dijo...

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Thanks for the tip, Taylor. I didn't know about this recording. I'm on a nine-month contract and don't get paid in the summer, but that may be my birthday present to myself next month.