The Monk's Music Trio
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The Monk's Music Trio with Roswell Rudd and Max Perkoff
Monk's Bones
CMB Records (monksmusic@hotmail.com)

The veteran drummer Chuck Bernstein founded the trio following his conversion by one of the Monk performances by the late soprano saxophone maestro Steve Lacy with Roswell Rudd, who jammed on trombone in the 1950s with the great Harlem stride pianist Donald Lambert (1904-1962). Rudd reveres the characterful extravert Bill Harris, and Vic Dickenson, whose wonderful wry vein was often misunderstood.

Lacy too had root connections with early jazz. Their Monk playing awakened Bernstein to many connections he'd not previously recognized. Thus the Monk's Music Trio, dedicated to not just another composer's music but to the distillations of jazz itself which Monk made. While Monk's music has seemed odd, its real oddness is that there is so much in it: the trio's veteran pianist, Si Perkoff, who knew Monk personally, shares Bernstein's background in blues bands as well as jazz: with musical touchstones beside Bud Powell and Horace Silver, the blues and boogie player Meade Lux Lewis. Monk's final quartets had wonderful bassists, and Sam Bevan fits that bill.

The trio's first two CDs, like the Lacy-Rudd performances, expounded Monk whole, rather than translate the music, with inevitable losses, into a more orthodox idiom. Monk's reharmonisations of items from the great American songbook (Dizzy Gillespie), or models of how to transform melody and combine old and newer in new improvisation (Coltrane) are isolated aspects of what this trio and others (like Alexander von Schlippenbach) are trying to realize: the nearest analogy of what the trio is about is an attempt to reinstate complex folk modes free of dilutions and resultant distortions.

Perkoff's trombonist son Max knows that, witness this realization of Bernstein's dream of a quintet date with Max and the gigantic Rudd added to the trio. A study of Duke Ellington's trombonists called "Duke's Bones" inspired the poetry of the set's title: performing Monk is like reading all the fine detail of a skeleton to create a picture of the living organism. Rudd's gargantuan noise is exposed, vulnerable, deeply serious, unrepressed. Monk didn't improvise on "Crepuscule with Nellie," his idyll of feelings implied, unspoken. Rudd dares the silence of the unexpressed, reads out things registered. On the ballad trombone feature "Ugly Beauty" there's a pathos Monk distilled when he played things like "There's Danger in Your Eyes, Marie." The trombonists alternate between soloing, and providing obbligati to each other, in a remarkable counterpoint of feelings. This isn't tongue-tied music.

Pa Perkoff, who interacts marvelously with trombone on "Little Rootie Tootie," avoids the too-easy, the mechanical or slick. Note the very Ellingtonian two-trombone work on "Rootie," the bassist's soft-toned theme statement on "Round Midnight," with the wash of Bernstein's drums. Anything comic or ironic seems to express rather humility than cleverness. The music's bigger than the musicians. Bernstein's playing of berimbau on "Friday the Thirteenth" echoes battered blues guitar, the trombones make the theme seem fragile. Ten minutes later they deliver "Blue Monk" with a broad boozy beginning and a gargly theme statement.

Monk didn't purge sentimentality from his music, he caught it in a tension of feelings that transmuted it. Sometimes there's a belly laugh, but Monk's music is very much about the healthy feelings that violence is too often and sometimes silently done to. - Robert R. Calder

CDs are available from cdroots

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