|Review courtesy of All About Jazz:
Saxophonist Steve Lacy is known as one of the most authoritative interpreters of Thelonious Monk's music. In the course of many of his interviews, he has said that he left free jazz behind at a certian point in his career, when he realized that "free jazz" could also mean the freedom not to play free. For Lacy, it didn't mean going back to playing an older style, but the experience of having played free jazz gave the freedom to discover new spaces within previously existing musical styles.
Lacy's words come to mind while listening to Thelonious Monk's music as played by Buell Neidlinger and Marty Krystall, two musicians who have had plenty of experience in free jazz. But this music is not "free jazz" at all. Instead, it is unmistakably Monk's music, played with great skill and respect for the Monk tradition. But we can still hear the free jazz spirit right from the opening drum roll that introduces "Monk's Dream." Neidlinger's bass solo which follows displays incisiveness, discordance and freedom, but without leaving Monk's stylistic framework. You can hear how these musicians have free jazz in their blood.
Buell Neidlinger is a living legend, having played with the great ones of all the periods of jazz - from Lester Young to Billie Holiday, from Gil Evans to Ornette, and a long time with Cecil Taylor - and also with the most prestigious symphonic orchestras in the U.S. The strength of this multi-faceted experience is evident in this wonderful recording, which should not be missing from any serious collection of Monk's music. Recorded live for a series of radio programs in 1988 celebrating what would have been Monk's seventy-first birthday, the group called "Thelonious" features Neidlinger and Krystall with two different combos. The first is an acoustic band featuring Brenton Banks on piano and Billy Osborne on drums. The second band, on the final four tracks, features keyboard player Jerry Peters, drummer William Jeffery and trumpeter Hugh Schick.
Both bands are wonderful, even if the first one is more genuinely within the Monk tradition. With the second band, the music is also excellent, with the electronic keyboards adding an original touch.
These two groups play with warmth, vitality and a constantly surprising inventiveness. Add that to their consistency and faithfulness to the original compositions and the listener hears a combination not usually present in performances of Monk's articulate and "rational" music. They play in a highly original and attractive way, neither betraying the fundamental character of the original nor falling into routine.
These musicians display such skill and bravura that we wonder why they are not more famous. Neidlinger's reputation is justly and solidly established, no need to say more. Marty Krystall's tenor has a fine, clean sound and his improvisation is explosive and varied. Brenton Banks, born in 1922 and more well known in rock circles for having recorded with Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, is distinguished also as one of Jim Hall's teachers. His piano playing on this recording is absolutely excellent.
Rating: * * * *