Friday, May 13, 2011

INTERPRETING MONK

"I don’t know that Monk would appreciate my offerings of his tunes, but I seriously doubt that Monk would want me to care,” stated piano player Eric Reed in the liner notes for “Dancing Monk,” his latest album for Savant. I will go out on a limb here. if Thelonious Monk were alive, Monk would appreciate Reed's interpretation of his music on Dancing Monk".

“Dancing Monk” isn't a tribute album. Chances are it will be mistaken as such, and will compared to other Monk devotees who tackled Monk's music. "Dancing Monk" is Reeds interpretation of 10 of Monk's timeless oldies. Are there other jazz musicians out there who took more risks with Monk’s songs than Reed did? 

Sure, there are some. The late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy was a Monk devotee. My favorite is “Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk Reflections”. Lacy made it in 1958 for New Jazz Records. Not long ago, guitar player Bobby Broom made “Bobby Broom Plays for Monk”. 

 With “Dancing Monk,” Reed didn’t set out to compete. Nor did Reed try to ape Monk's style, or overhaul MonK's music. Reed is smart enough to know perfection cannot be improved on. “Ask Me Now,” “Reflection,” “Ugly Beauty” and “Ruby, My Dear.” are some of Monk's songs Reed plays,

Reed is most comfortable with Monk’s slow jams. On “Rudy, My Dear,” Reed, drummer Ben Wolfe, and bass player McClenty Hunter plays with the attention and care of a mother bathing a toddler. When Monk composed the up-tempo songs such as “Eronel” and “Blue Monk”, he left the door wide open for endless improvising, Which Reed exploits. Yet Reed never goes overboard.

Reed is a no frills kind of jazz piano player. Which doesn't suggest Reed is boring. Reed grew up playing piano in his dad’s storefront church in Philadelphia. Which explains Reed’s hallelujah swing approach on Monk's up-tempo songs. On paper, Reed is the right piano player to interpret Monk’s music.
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