Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Just about the time you ask yourself, "What else can be done with a Monk tune?" The Microscopic Septet comes in to blow you away. Fueled by inventive arrangements by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester (with one by Bob Montalto), the Micros twist and turn through the Thelonious Monk songbook with a spirit of ambitious grace, super-sized energy and flat-out fun. The disc kicks off with a take on "Brilliant Corners" that shows what the septet is all about. There's plenty of space for dialogue and interplay between the sax section of Johnstone's soprano, Don Davis' alto, Mike Hashim's tenor and Dave Sewelson's blow-out-the-bottom baritone. They weave in and out of the melody, each taking a solo here and adding a flourish there. They lock in for precision section work. Then comes a hairpin turn of tempo to give the rhythm section a go. Forrester takes the lead on piano while Dave Hofstra on bass and Richard Dworkin on drums drive the rhythm. In comes the full band, then full circle back to the horn section to finish with a splash. "Teo," which Monk wrote for his long-time producer Teo Macero, has a driving punk-rock-meets-Bo-Diddley beat made for soloing over. In the liner notes, Johnston makes an interesting observation that the tune shows the link between Monk and saxophonist Steve Lacy. "Misterioso" is an opportunity for the group to play with time and roles in the band. In the first section of the tune, the horn section keeps the rhythm (and melody) while the rhythm section solos with freedom. Then they reverse roles nicely. "Epistrophy" serves as a great closing number, short and sweet, and tightly arranged. One interesting aspect of Friday The Thirteenth is that the band raised more than $10,000 on kickstarter.com to make the record. Fifty-nine people went to the site to become backers of the project. Septet co-leaders Johnston and Forrester have been loving and playing Monk together since the 1970s, and their joy infuses every second of this disc." -DownBeat
JazzTimes - "FRIDAY THE 13TH proves, again, that the music of Thelonious Monk is universal, timeless, and open to endless interpretation."
Tributee: Thelonious Monk.
Personnel: Phillip Johnston (soprano saxophone); Mike Hashim (tenor saxophone); Dave Sewelson (baritone saxophone); Joel Forrester (piano); Richard Dworkin (drums).
Audio Mixer: Jon Rosenberg.
Recording information: systems II Studios, Brooklyn, NY.
Very few jazz composers have experienced the extremes of acceptance and rejection that were Thelonious Monk's lot. Ignored and rejected early in his career -- in part for the oblique weirdness of his piano style, in part for the difficulty and angularity of his compositions, and in part because he was quite clearly mentally ill -- he did at least live to see his music given the appreciation it deserved, and his work has only grown in esteem since his death in 1982. Today, his pieces are among the most frequently performed and recorded of any jazz composer; as popularity among musicians goes, his music is on the same level as that of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. The Microscopic Septet (whom you may have heard playing the theme music to NPR's Fresh Air) have now dedicated an entire album to arrangements of Monk compositions, most of them familiar ones ("Misterioso," "Off Minor," "Epistrophy," etc.). Their arrangements are innovative but respectful: they take "Brilliant Corners" and shuffle its component parts around a little bit; they write some lovely counterpoint around the head on "Friday the 13th"; they give "Gallop's Gallop" a joyfully loose, communitarian treatment that sounds a bit like the second half of a New Orleans funeral. Part of what makes the Micros' take on these familiar tunes so enjoyable is their willingness to engage with Monk's sense of humor; the "difficulty" of his music is frequently puckish rather than forbidding, and too few musicians recognize that fact or capitalize on it. The group's unusual configuration (four saxophones and a piano trio) makes possible some very interesting timbral juxtapositions, and they make the most of that potential as well. Newcomers to Monk's music should let these arrangements lead them back to the original recordings on Riverside and Blue Note; longtime fans who think they've heard every possible interesting arrangement of these tunes should think again. ~ Rick Anderson
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