Chuck Bernstein, drummer and leader of this group, turns 65 this year. Si Perkoff, its pianist, passed that milestone in 2002; the band’s bassist and baby just turned 30 (and lacks the full white moustache of each of the others). Gutsy’s a good word with which to start to talk about them.
There’s more, since Bernstein seems to be a Jewish Buddhist, and both he and the pianist worked with Nick Gravenites’s blues band. Perkoff cites Meade Lux Lewis as a piano influence, though the obvious reference is Bud Powell during the Parisian period when he was closest in conception to Monk (as an album on Columbia made clear) though there’s also Horace Silver. It seems fairly clear that the bassist, Sam Bevan, knows the sort of heroics performed by the bassists Monk engaged in his later performing years. Bernstein also lists as influences Max Roach and the man Max R. calls Papa Jo Jones, as well as Art Blakey. These mature students have mastered more than their reading lists: as an ensemble performing Monk’s music they are summa cum laude; hence mention of them in the next breath to that Bud Powell album. Pianists with trained hands have revered it, Monk without the unique fingerings which only need to be heard before some conservatory-compatible knuckles start aching. People with wild fingers do not mind such idiosyncrasies. This is, among other things, an excellent pianistic translation of Monk, with guts and subtle wit. It also includes tunes less likely to be widely known; my own easier acquaintance with some (“Boo Boo’s Birthday”, for instance) is actually only a recent result of reviewing a number of Monk reissues.
“Two Timer” is, however, a more recent discovery by Monk’s son. Add to the predictable trickiness of playing this music the danger of reading an unknown composition as a rearrangement of something older and known (which happened sometimes on Monk’s own recordings) and you can appreciate the novel force of the performance here of that hardly as yet recorded item.
The opening “San Francisco Holiday” has a sense of drama necessary and continuing through “Coming on the Hudson”. The bassist maintains the forward impulse, Bernstein continues to produce the accents and press-rolls, the timing and moderating drum-phrases against and with which the pianist operates. The hesitances, the decelerations real and illusory, the development of the left hand part and the resonant low end of the piano are all in Perkoff’s command. So too is the singing and maybe sometimes stinging lyricism of Monk the melodist, to say nothing of the spontaneity which demonstrates the music is in the 30 fingers used here.
It’s hard enough even to demonstrate (play slowly on a keyboard with one finger) the complex line of “Four in One”, let alone emulate Bud Powell in delivering the melodic expression with every note of the tune fingered. For that not to have proved impossible, this trio had to be as remarkable as they are. Perkoff has to be quite something. Hear the brilliantly developed left hand part on “Brilliant Corners”. “Trinkle Tinkle”? Other than by Monk, I’ve seldom heard that very singular number played, I mean performed as itself, rather than paraphrased. But that’s the way of it all through this excellent set.
These men can also play blues with real low-down force. Horace Silver rivalled! Hear all 77 minutes of this if you can. Can somebody please bring this trio to Europe? To adapt what Sonny Rollins said of a more pianistically idiosyncratic Monk specialist, does anybody realize how good these guys are? Vivifying!