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Reinventing Bent-Bop 

Roswell Rudd captures Monk's avant melodies

Wednesday, Apr 5 2006
Everyone knows Monk. The bent-bop pianist who came up in the postwar '40s has long been an establishment darling. There's even a school named in his honor (the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz) that sponsors an annual high-stakes competition, crowning industry-friendly youngbloods with a huge cash prize and sometimes a major-label contract — which is ironic because Monk was shut out of the mainstream for much of his career. But since his death in 1982, a number of his tunes, once perceived to be too out-there for straight-ahead fans, have become standards for players all over the world. The sad consequence of this, of course, is a dilution of the composer-improviser's twisted genius. Thankfully, Monk's original spirit lives on in the work of veteran avant-gardist Roswell Rudd.

A distinguished trombonist, ethnomusicologist, and educator, Rudd was one of the first non-bop players to get behind Monk's songbook in the early '60s when he joined a precedent-setting band led by the renowned saxophonist Steve Lacy, widely considered to be the Monk interpreter. After Lacy's passing a couple of years ago, Rudd, at 69, is now the preeminent torch bearer. So his appearance with the respected yet relatively unknown Bay Area combo Monk's Music Trio (pianist Si Perkoff, drummer Chuck Bernstein, and bassist Sam Bevan) is worthy of notice.

Rudd and the trio's approach to Monk's labyrinthine compositions is duly exploratory. The band digs into snaky melodies, jagged rhythms, and timbral nuances not to arrive at an expected place but to discover the mysteries that emerge along the way. The trombonist, in particular, brings an apt sauciness to his performance, evoking the trademark wit, wisdom, and audacity of one of jazz's authentic enduring legends.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


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