The Microscopic Septet – Friday the Thirteenth
(Cuneiform Rune 310. CD Review by Chris Parker)
The cover artwork for this album, which features the New York-based
Microscopic Septet putting their own highly individual, not to say
downright idiosyncratic, slant on twelve Monk tunes, includes a portrait
of a suitably behatted pianist playing a grand, the outline of his body
indicated only by a series of dots to be joined by numbers; it is the
perfect visual metaphor for the Micros’ approach.
As liner-note writer Peter Keepnews points out, Monk himself was famously sceptical about ‘direction’ in jazz, commenting: ‘I don’t know where jazz is going. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.’
The septet are clearly in total agreement with this typically succinct,
gnomic statement; as Keepnews says, they give ‘no sign of caring where
jazz [is] going. In their hands, it seem[s] to be going in several
directions at once.’ Accordingly, the Monk material here, whether
celebrated almost to over-familiarity (‘Evidence’, ‘We See’,
‘Misterioso’, ‘Epistrophy’) or more obscure (‘Gallop’s
Gallop’, ‘Worry Later’), is as likely to be deconstructed and
reassembled ‘like toy blocks’ (soprano player Phillip Johnston on
his arrangement of ‘Brilliant Corners’), fall into the category ‘Punk Monk’ (‘Teo’), or owe as much to celebrated Monk interpreters such as Steve Lacy or Roscoe Mitchell as to the man himself (‘Friday the Thirteenth’, ‘Gallop’s Gallop’).
Along the way, there are excursions into New Orleans-type shuffles, what pianist Joel Forrester calls the ‘serious flittering of Monk’s early sponsor Coleman Hawkins’ in tenor player Mike Hashim‘s solo on ‘Off Minor’, and the odd ‘ironic Noirish moment’ in ‘Misterioso’, but if all this slightly esoteric referencing (and the band’s notes mention everyone from Webern and Mingus to Nabakov, Flann O’Brien and film-maker Philip Hass) makes the whole thing sound insufferably pretentious, nothing could be more misleading: this is a joyously celebratory romp through Monk’s music, laced with irreverent humour and sly wit, but always utterly in accord with that most elusive article, the spirit of the composer.