1. Bright Mississippi
2. Well You Needn't
3. Blue Monk
4. Stuffy Turkey
6. Let's Cool One
7. It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
8. Brilliant Corners
Jimmy Owens - Trumpet, flugelhorn
Wycliffe Gordon - Trombone
Marcus Strickland - Tenor sax
Howard Johnson - Tuba, baritone sax
Kenny Barron - Piano
Kenny Davis - Bass
Winard Harper - Drums.
There have been many attempts at orchestrating the music of Thelonious
Monk - notably Monk Big Band and Quartet in Concert (1963)
and The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959). Several
more recent albums - such as Eric Reed's
The Dancing Monk -
have paid tribute to Thelonious and here is yet another, masterminded
by trumpeter Jimmy Owens, who arranged the numbers with some help
from his students.
Owens has been quite daring with the arrangements, overturning some of our expectations and shining new light on Monk's compositions. For instance, Blue Monk is taken at an unusually slow tempo, emphasising its blues quality, with a twinkling piano solo and a nice growling solo from Wycliffe Gordon's trombone. Let's Cool One is transformed from Monk's four-four beat to waltz time, and there are brief solo opportunities for bass and drums. And Well You Needn't is taken much slower than usual, although the tempo varies to reflect the perversity of the tune.
Drummer Winard Harper shows his worth in Brilliant Corners, a complex tune which is somehow given structure by Winard's interpolations. This number also has a bluesy piano solo and some eloquent converse between the front-line instruments.
The addition of a tuba to the line-up seems to reflect Monk's impudence, and Howard Johnson actually solos on It Don't Mean a Thing (a Duke Ellington tune, no doubt here because of Monk's devotion to the Duke) and Wycliffe Gordon displays his customary wit. In fact I would single out Wycliffe as the most interesting soloist here, followed by pianist Kenny Barron and tenor-saxist Marcus Strickland (who sometimes reminds me of Monk's long-time tenorist Charlie Rouse). Strickland's solo on Bright Mississippi (one of Monk's best but neglected tunes) has the right jagged character, prompted by Kenny Barron's piano. Unfortunately, Jimmy Owens seems to be the weakest of the soloists, committing bloopers in several solos, although his statement of the theme in Reflections is suitably contemplative.
The closing eleven-minute Epistrophy gives most members of the band a chance to stretch out, with Howard Johnson switching to baritone sax.
To sum up, not a perfect album but an interesting tribute to a composer who took a long time to be recognised as one of the true jazz greats.