Sunday, March 22, 2009

Evidence of Genius

I find it curious that Thelonious Monk's middle name was Sphere. What was that about? Perhaps no composer in the history of jazz has so often or so accurately been described as "angular." Monk always seems to be coming at the melody from an obscure, if not noneuclidean angle. Monk was one of the founding fathers of bop, and he remained within the compass of that music. But he was the greatest inspiration for the Avant Garde movement, which just couldn't get enough of Monk compositions. The link may be found precisely in his angularity. Avant Garde is distinct from Bop essentially in its abstraction. Every line in a bop number stands for some complex human passion. Avant garde abstracts from the passions to isolate the musical forms. I think Bop remains the greater music, but the jazz catalog would be poorer without the new thing.

Here is an interesting comparison. First, a recording of Monk's 'Evidence' from one of my favorite sets. Behind Monk is Johnny Griffin on tenor, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. The setting is the Five Spot.
Thelonious Monk/Evidence/Thelonious In Action
I think that displays all the virtues and passion of bop. Now compare it with this cut by Steve Lacy with Don Cherry (trumpet), Carl Brown on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry/Evidence/Evidence
Everything I say will be confirmed, whether it is true or not.

1 comment:

  1. I went looking for a video of Monk's piece, and could not have been happier with the result. I couldn't tell if it was this particular recording, but it's still well worth a view: