Jimmy Owens Navigates Monk's 'Brilliant Corners' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Jimmy Owens Navigates Monk's 'Brilliant Corners'

Play associated audio

In 1974, trumpeter Jimmy Owens helped prepare and played on a Carnegie Hall concert of Thelonious Monk's music. On the night in question, the orchestra featured a surprise soloist: Monk himself. It was one of the pianist's last public performances. Thirty-eight years later, Owens has just been honored as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has a new album of Monk compositions arranged for seven players, called The Monk Project.

In Monk's lifetime, his pieces weren't played so very often, and interpreters often smoothed away their idiosyncrasies. After Monk's death in 1982, jazz players started paying more attention to his tunes' specific quirks, to the point where musicians jamming on them might simply mimic their counterparts in Monk's band. Something like that happens here, a little — tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland sounds like he's been studying Monk's last great tenor, Charlie Rouse.

Owens' septet epitomizes one modern approach to Monk, not too straight, not too quirky. He doesn't ape Monk's sound, but instead honors his method: Keep the melody in mind at all times, leave plenty of space so the music can breathe, and make it sound old and new at once — rooted in the masters, but freshly shuffled. Owens knows Monk's tunes swing all by themselves, if you play them right. His funny timing catapults the music forward. When Monk recorded "Brilliant Corners," a tricky tune even for him, he doubled the tempo every other time through the melody — a weird move, but good show business. Owens puts "Brilliant Corners" through different rhythmic variations, leading to a slow conversation for four horns — avant-garde Dixieland.

That's about as loose as it gets. Jimmy Owens mostly dresses Monk's tunes for uptown wear — Monk the Harlem jam-session swinger. The four-horn voicings, with Howard Johnson on either tuba or baritone sax, grease the tunes for cooking. The champ rhythm section is Kenny Barron on piano, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. On trombone, the versatile Wycliffe Gordon is a wizard with a plunger mute, adding some Ellingtonian earthiness.

A few rough spots turn up in Jimmy Owens' own trumpet and flugelhorn solos on The Monk Project, which is a good sign in a way. He's more concerned with showcasing the music and the ensemble than making himself look good. This midsize band jells so well, it might think of regrouping for some encores. The Monk Project makes me daydream about other composers whose music they could feature, like Tadd Dameron or Andrew Hill, or whomever Owens may be thinking about already.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

WWI Diaries Of Poet Siegfried Sassoon Go Public For First Time

Nearly a dozen notebooks and journals by the author, who fought in the British Army during the war, are being released to coincide with the centenary of the start of the conflict.
NPR

Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How To Eat Well On A Food Stamp Budget

A Canadian scholar was unimpressed with the cookbooks available for people on food stamps in the U.S. So she decided to come up with her own set of tips and recipes for eating well on $4 a day.
WAMU 88.5

McDonnell Corruption Trial: Defense Zeroes In On Star Witness' Credibility

Defense attorney William Burck is focusing on inconsistencies in what Jonnie Williams told investigators as well as his stock dealings.
NPR

Simmering Online Debate Shows Emoji Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

A report from a local Philadelphia TV station is re-igniting a debate and getting people all up in arms. (Or should we say, up in hands?)

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.