Music

Monks Music Trio: Monk on Mondays

A long-running San Francisco trio that is fully -- slavishly -- devoted to the great compositions of Thelonious Monk.


Monk's Music Trio

Monk on Mondays

Contributors: Si Perkoff, Chuck Bernstein, Sam Bevan
Label: CMB
US Release Date: 2007-07-21
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

In the early 1960s, the quirky, brilliant artistry of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was just coming to light. Though Monk had been a key architect of the bebop revolution and had long been recognized by jazz players as a master American composer, he had been outshone by jazz celebrities such as Charlie Parer, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. Come the '60s, however, something about Monk's eccentricity struck a chord with the public. A wearer of odd hats and a genuine oddball guy who danced about his piano during saxophone solos and whose utterances were often cryptic at best, Monk made the cover of Time on 28 February 1964.

Since then -- and particularly in the 25 years since Monk's death -- jazz musicians have been covering his tunes almost obsessively. Indeed, on the day Monk died in 1982, a tribute band taking his middle name (Sphere) recorded an album of pure Monk. If covering "Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser" has been de rigueur since Miles did it in the '50s, then covering "Well You Needn't" and "Ruby My Dear" has since become just as common. Any Real Book-toting local band has got the basic chops.

What then of the Monk's Music Trio, a local San Francisco piano trio that believes itself to be "one of the longest continually performing Monk repertoire band in the history of jazz"?

Monk on Mondays (referring to the trio's longstanding gig at a Bay Area café) was recorded "live" in pianist Si Perkoff's home -- 13 mostly familiar Monk tunes played straight up and straight down. No surprises. Every track is faithful to a fault. Monk's Music Trio plays Monk the way Monk might have played it 40 years ago. Except that Si Perkoff is not a dashing genius of the jazz piano whose every solo seems to emerge fresh from his puckish imagination. And that distinction says it all.

Very few Monk interpretations, of course, can match the wit and quirk of the real thing. That is why most jazz musicians who play Monk defiantly put their own spin on him. In fact, that is precisely what has demonstrated the brilliance of Monk's tunes: they retain their distinctive character even when interpreted in wildly different ways. Kenny Barron plays Monk with elegant grace. Cedar Walton plays him with a funky rhythmic groove. Miles Davis made him brash and atmospheric at once. Steve Lacey gave him a strident "out" edge. Medeski, Martin & Wood wedded him to reggae for goodness sake.

The Monk's Music Trio, while perfectly swinging and utterly acceptable and without a doubt devoted to the tunes, just plays him utterly straight. Perkoff, who gets most of the solo space of course, plays with exuberant emphasis. His time is usually straight on the beat, particularly on the swingers such as "Let's Call This", even rushing ahead of the groove in some places like a kid who just can't wait to get to the next lick or chord. Bassist Sam Bevan is nicely recorded and plays with solid time and fine note choice, and drummer (and label owner) Chuck Bernstein is old school-swinging all the way. It's also fair to say that the band's chemistry is good. All is fine, but maybe not dandy.

To be dandy playing Monk covers these days, fresh ideas are mandatory. And while Perkoff has mastered any number of pianistic Monk-isms (the whole tone scale runs, the half step dissonances, the odd little trills), nothing here seems fresh or new. You'd be lucky to catch these guys on a Monday in San Francisco, no doubt. But in 2007, every jazz fan who might buy an obscure local disc like this surely has OD'ed on this kind of thing already. The disc is enjoyable but, alas, only the most recent in a line now so long as to be tiresome.

Monk traditionalists, perhaps, will find authenticity here. At least three of the covers ("Brake's Sake", "Locomotive" and "Something in Blue") are rarely played and ht your ear differently as a result. But three tracks does not an album make. I've got the waft of musicianship and devotion from the Monk's Music Trio, but -- hungry for fresh flavors -- I'll keep walking down the sidewalk in search of a new set of seasonings.

4

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image