Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2005 : 18
"Straight No Chaser / Epistrophy" by Alexander von Schlippenbach / Axel Dörner / Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Uli Jennessen

The jazz world doesn't need another set of Monk covers. The world doesn't need another hospital or cop drama either. But we keep coming back to them. Every established and up-and-coming jazz artist (Bill Clinton said Monk was the jazz artist he most wanted to have jammed with) feels the need to prove his chops against the master by resurrecting such hoary chestnuts as "Off Minor" and "Ruby My Dear." Rarely do they ever shed any new light, or add any new perspectives on these scuffed geometrical gemstones. Nor do they match Monk's spirit of personal discovery when playing his own compositions, Exceptions are few: Giorgio Gaslini's album Gaslini Plays Monk, and lifelong acolyte Steve Lacy's Mondrian-like constructions.

So it might have come as some surprise that one of the pinnacles of live music in the last 10 years, is a collection of Monk covers by musicians who have, for the better part of 3 decades, pushed the boundaries of the jazz tradition. Not just a collection, though, the entire collected compositional output, which totals 69 songs, on three CDs. Some are taken at breakneck speed, some are enjambed, some are smeared with extended techniques, some are played "straight." It's not only a dazzling display of talent and arrangement, but of re-imagining what we've heard a million times over. Monk is rescued from the bin of soft clich├ęs, turned inside out, the edges sharpened to a blinding point.

Gurgling Rudi Mahall's bass clarinet is like the resurrection of Eric Dolphy, almost to the point of parody (which at times, the whole project feels like). On tunes like "Monk's Dream," the shambling New Orleans jalopy feels as loose as an Art Ensemble of Chicago record. Uli Jennessen (drums) and battery mate Jan Roder (bass), swing when the melody runs downhill, and when they get to the bottom, take the long way back up. Axel Dörner takes a page from Don Cherry's playbook, and scribbles on it. The whole box is boisterous, measured, respectful, irreverent, playful, and somber, beautiful and, yes, ugly. Like old friends getting together to tell stories of their childhood.

The set ends with a rousing huzzah, "Straight No Chaser / Epistrophy."

See also: Atomic – The Bikini Tapes (Jazzland)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Alexander von Schlippenbach / Axel Dörner / Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Uli Jennessen >> "Straight No Chaser / Epistrophy"

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