Anthony Braxton

Six Monk's Compositions (1987)

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The band Anthony Braxton assembled for this unique exploration of the compositions of Thelonious Monk is one of the wonders of the composer's retinue. Braxton, pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Bill Osborne use six Monk tunes and go hunting for harmonic invention; in order, they are "Brilliant Corners," "Reflections," "Played Twice," "Four in One," "Ask Me Now," and "Skippy." From the jump, the listener can tell this is no ordinary Monk tribute. The music is fast, skittering along at a dervish's pace on "Brilliant Corners," and Braxton's horn -- an alto on this album -- moves right for that street where interval meets modulation and sticks his solo in the center, careening over the arrangement -- which is what the tune is in essence, an arrangement rather than a "song" -- and slipping just behind the beat to allow Waldron's brittle, almost angular percussive sonority to define the melody enough to move around the harmonic framework. And this is only the beginning. The other five compositions here are treated in a similar fashion, in that they are radically reinterpreted, played and executed with a degree of musicianship seldom found on any tribute. Braxton's intent was to get at the knotty -- even nutty -- harmonic and rhythmic idiosyncrasies that make Monk's music connect so deeply and widely yet remain difficult to interpret correctly. If all you get is a listen to "Four in One" or "Skippy," just listen to how completely each of these musicians reinvents himself to approach the material. On alternating tunes, Braxton and Waldron provide the catalyst, but all four become changelings in light of this intense and addictive harmonic conception.

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