Plays Monk – Signal To Noise

Signal To Noise talks about Plays Monk

Does the world really another trio interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s music? Well, take one look at the personnel involved here, and you’ll Know this isn’t simply another stab at revivalist orthodoxy. Bassist Devin Hoff, drummer Scott Amendola, and clarinetist Ben Goldberg have worked together and separately in many of the Bay Area’s most interesting groups (Hoff and Amendola are two thirds of the Nels Cline Singers; Goldberg is the newest member in the Tin Hat ensemble) and each is a strong band leader in his own right. They’ve also participated in two of
the more intriguing recent homages to jazz masters. All three were members of New Monastery, Nels Cline’s recent homage to Andrew Hill; and Hoff was the bassist on The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact, Goldberg’s tribute to Steve Lacy. Goldberg’s musings on Monk’s music published on the band’s Web site sums up the trio’s approach nicely. “Each song is a unique parable of form, timing, concision, and motion. The musician who investigates this material finds, additionally, a series of interlocking meditations on the fundamentals of melody, harmony, rhythm, and form.” They zero in on Monk’s propulsive motion, angular melodic contours, and skewed sense of time. Rather than attack the heads and then string out a series of solos, they use the melodies as structures for weaving collective improvisation. At any point, any of the members may take the lead. Goldberg’s snaking clarinet may voice the theme which gets shadowed by Hoff’s driving bass. But then Amendola’s tuned drums can step forth to shift focus to the tumbling rhythms as bass and clarinet bubble underneath. Navigating their way through a tunes like “Work,” “Green Chimneys,” or “Four in One,” the improvisations use the forms as a framework for explorations that edge toward freedom without loosing the thread of the melody. Other pieces like “Reflections” or “Skippy” are based on melodic extrapolation. With all pieces in the two to five minute range, the interactions are stripped of excess, while still displaying a relaxed spontaneity. Amendola, Goldberg, and Hoff make the most of Monks book, distilling the essence of the music while making it uniquely their own.

Michael Rosenstein

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