That the pianist Andrés Vial has attempted a programme of Thelonious Monk works is not, in itself, unusual. Pianists through the ages from Bud Powell down have paid tribute in different ways to The Great One in their own way. In “their own way” is the key here for it seems that for pianists (at any rate) to deliver a work or works by Mr Monk is a rite of passage the fact that every pianist after Mr Monk is a lesser mortal means that at best, one can expect “an interpretation”. For the record, perhaps only Bud Powell, Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner (all of them for different reasons) may be considered peers of Mr Monk in both a qualitative and quantitative manner to date, but that hasn’t stopped the homages and so it shouldn’t.
But with the music of Thelonious Monk, you simply cannot stop at a mere “homage”; a mere “interpretation” even though it is a matter of undisputed conjecture about what “more” one could add to a Monk piece anyway. His harmonic conceptions were so inventive and unique that – like Charlie Parker (and Herbie Nichols) – the world of musicians is still working them out; much less catching up. But just as with the work of every great musician from Palestrina and Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and (for pianists: Chopin and Liszt) down there may be an interpretation out there that is yet to be discovered as Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich, Alicia de Larrocha and others like Leslie Howard have shown. And so it is with Mr Monk and the pianists who offer their impressions of his work from Bud Powell to Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, and from Fred Hersch to others…
So what does Andrés Vial have to offer on Sphereology Volume One? Certainly the programme itself is unusual. Featuring beautifully-crafted arrangements of beguiling variety and sensuousness, in every lovingly crafted phrase of these works Mr Vial’s love for The Great One’s music – which Chick Corea once rightly recognised as being among “the greatest music of the 20th century” – shines brightly. His chosen material with one or two exceptions, judiciously focuses on some of the lesser-known gems associated with Mr Monk’s oeuvre. Listening to the way in which Mr Vial sculpts the long and sustained inventions of “Bluehawk” and especially “Ask Me Now” clearly not a semiquaver or a cracked rhythm hasn’t been assiduously considered. But it is Mr Vial’s partnership with guitarist Peter Bernstein that is both inspired and magical too.
Just as there is no clone of Mr Monk, there also appears to be no saxophonist who could have played his music like Charlie Rouse. And so Mr Vial asks Mr Bernstein to step in; a risqué choice considering that adding a guitarist would be tantamount to having another rhythm instrument stepping on the piano’s pedals. But Mr Bernstein is no ordinary guitarist and he seems to have come with an extraordinary understanding of Mr Monk’s affinity for the Blues and for the history of Jazz that coursed through (the pianist’s veins). Clearly he has schooled himself in Mr Monk secrets to the extent that one may claim he has penetrated many (if not) all of them. And listening to the way in which the guitarist seductively bends the notes of iconic Monkisms on “Ugly Beauty” (to name, literally, just one of the nine pieces he plays on) suggests that Mr Bernstein has paid his way for this journey many times over.
Mr Monk’s overpowering presence in the realm of the rhythmic aspects of his music may not have seemed kind to all of the memorable bassists and drummers he played with and Dezron Douglas, Rodney Green, Martin Heslop and André White attach themselves to this music with umbilical and organic intensity. Together these musicians not only seem wonderfully attuned to Mr Vial’s vision of this music, but also that of the dedicatee – Thelonious Monk. And this is what ultimately makes this an album to die for.
Track list – 1: Bluehawk; 2: Coming on the Hudson; 3: Think of One; 4: Ugly Beauty; 5: Green Chimneys; 6: Light Blue; 7: Ask Me Now; 8: Introspection; 9: Work; 10: Functional
Personnel – Andrés Vial: piano; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Dezron Douglas: contrabass (1 – 6); Rodney Green: drums (1 – 6); Martin Heslop: contrabass (8 – 10); André White: drums (8 – 10)
Released – 2018
Label – Chromatic Audio (Chroma 111417)
Runtime – 59:00