In his liner notes to Charlie Parker: The Birth of Bebop – Celebrating Bird at 100 [Remastered Selections from the Dial Recordings Vol. 1 & 2] Art Lange wondered what the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker might sound like had he lived and continued to evolve beyond 1955. Mr Lange would not be the first to imagine such a scenario. Moreover, Bird isn’t here, so the argument might be moot. However, Bird and – for the purposes of this review – Thelonious Monk left a very clear message before they made their exit, stage left.
It was eminently clear from the music itself that was not likely to be replicated in any form other than in the form that it was composed. Like the great composers – Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Paganini and others who composed works [for a single virtuoso instrumentalist – Bird and Mr Monk conceived their works and set them in stone, but also challenged others to improvise on their harmonic and rhythmic conceptions so as to suitably ornament the music. The fact that Bird only went so far as to play his music with strings, and Mr Monk ventured only twice to play with large ensembles might suggest that much work might have to be done but the proverbial door was left imperceptibly open.
Mr Monk, who lived almost three decades longer than Bird, [in 1973] had become disillusioned with the reception to his work and was even reluctant to perform. When it was suggested by Randy Weston if he wouldn’t perform, why not continue to compose for others retorted: “Why? They can’t even figure out how to play the music I already wrote.” We have no word from Bird before he died about the future of his music. Nor do we know exactly what he thought of the “Strings” adventure. We do know from multiple sources, though, that he was ready to take a leap into the musical realm inhabited by Bartok, Varese, Stravinsky and others. What was he thinking? And where did he see his music in the near [or far] future?
It’s impossible to say. But this we certainly know: the harmonic and rhythmic inventions of Bird and Monk opened the door for music in the manner in which only men like Schoenberg, Webern and Berg had done before them. And so it fell to musicians who thought like composers; musicians such as Heiner Stadler – snared by the nets that Bird and Mr Monk had woven with their music – who could cast these very nets that had snared them into the Challenger Deep of music, if not to show us “what” Bird and Mr Monk would be playing, then at least to show us “how” their music might sound – after everything that Music had gone through especially after the wholesome impact of Bird and Mr Monk on all music – indeed on art in general.
In the winter of 1978, Heiner Stadler lent his consummate skill to arranging and conducting – indeed re-imagining the music of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. The result was A Tribute to Monk and Bird [Tomato, 1978] was released as a 2-LP set, produced by Michael Cuscuna, and eleven years later , it was re-released as a 2-CD set. Then, 22 years later, this magnificent session makes its reappearance yet again, this time with the title that Mr Stadler had conceived: A Tribute to Bird and Monk [Labor Records, 2010] . Why is this important? For two reasons: Not only does it reaffirm the relevance – and the importance – of the music of Bird and Thelonious Monk, but it also gives us a worm’s eye view of Mr Stadler’s musical universe and of his uncommon composer’s genius.
A Tribute to Bird and Monk is an audacious, inspirational record. In six compositions that have come to define 20th Century music Mr Stadler has distilled the essence of Bird’s and Mr Monk’s true genius. Rooting the music – as Bird and Mr Monk did – in the Blues, Mr Stadler stretches it as far as the harmonic and rhythmic elasticity will allow it. In Bird’s music we continue to hear the elemental howl he sculpted in the phrases he played with his alto saxophone even as George Adams plays it on his tenor horn and flute. This unfettered shuffle and interminable holler is, of course, stretched much further – the already jagged rhythms shattered and interrupted by dissonance and wild harmonies. And just as Bird and Mr Monk went for musical jugular, so does Mr Stadler.
More musicians imitated Bird and Mr Monk than tried to inhabit their skin – not that this was easy, or even possible. However, the originality of Mr Stadler’s interpretations stands out in sharp contrast to what had been happening for decades. There is maddening polytonal trickery in the theme of “Air Conditioning” and all the players dazzle in the density of the colours and shades. Trombonist George Lewis’ majestic chromatic blowing on “Au Privave” also features drummer Lenny White’s depth bombs, while the swaggering, bluesy, almost drunken rhythm of Mr Monk’s tantalizing “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-are” is further chopped and re-crafted by pianist Stanley Cowell.
The burnished cornet sound of Thad Jones flavours a kind of shape-shifting polytonality, mixing in the magisterium of Reggie Workman’s bass structures paving the way for Mr Cowell’s pianism and Warren Smith’s shattering attack on “Misterioso”. “Perhaps” is embellished by tenor saxophonist George Adams’ atonal melodicism as he peppers the high and mighty howl of Mr Jones’ flugelhorn. Special mention need to be made of Mr Lewis’ stellar turn, shattering modern conceptions of how a trombone may be played. In the surging audacity of this music Heiner Stadler’s rearrangements must also be felicitated. Mr Stadler’s arrangements come as a result of being fired up by the music of Bird and Monk. And rightfully, this music also belongs to him.
Track list – Disc One – 1: Air Conditioning; 2: Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-are; 3: Au Privave. Disc Two – 1: Straight No Chaser; 2: Misterioso; 3: Perhaps
Personnel – Thad Jones: trumpet [Disc One 1 – 3 Disc Two 1, 2] and flugelhorn [Disc Two 3]; George Adams: tenor saxophone [Disc One 1 – 3, Disc Two 1, 2] and flute [Disc Two 3]; George Lewis: trombone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Reggie Workman: contrabass; Lenny White: drums; Warren Smith: timpani [Disc Two 2, 3]; Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet [Disc One 2].
Released – 1978 [TOM-2-9002], 1989 ; 2010 [LAB 7074]
Label[s] – Tomato Records; Labor Records
Runtime – Disc One 37:42 Disc Two 41:06 [The Labor Records 7074 release was on a single disc]