Blue Monk Variations

Ivo Perelman

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Blue Monk Variations Review

by Thom Jurek

This is a very brief offering by saxophone great Ivo Perelman, featuring three takes of Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" and a variation on each one. Apparently this was recorded as a way of not wasting time; Perelman was waiting for a tuba player to arrive for a session -- he was very late. Rather than let the booked time go to waste, he began playing "Blue Monk" and extrapolating upon it as a way of warming up. He had no intention of recording or releasing the work. Later, upon discovering the tape, he played it and sought to issue it after all -- and with good reason. The liner notes apologize all over themselves for the CDs brevity -- a little over 35 minutes. This is false modesty; these folks know they have a killer solo saxophone record here no matter how long or short it is. In fact, it just may be the perfect length for a solo set. What Perelman accomplished here is an intervallic wonder. He has taken Monk's melody and his notion of harmony and stretched them toward boundaries these notes had never encountered before. And, yes, he retains the same basic playful spontaneity the composer insisted upon each time he played his own work. The horn squawks and squeaks all over the place, using theme, voice modulation, various breathing techniques, and scalar invention to reach into the melodic and tonal harmonic bag of Monk for some fresh ideas. When Perelman blows the tune, all the wheels come off and only its chassis remains. When he moves into each of the three variations on the tune, in blues phrasing, free jazz blowing, and funky-bottom R&B swinging, he transforms his improvising into Monk's and vice versa. Perelman's respect for the structural integrity of the original remains intact even when he revamps the intervals and harmonic accents; he never quite leaves it behind, insisting on building from the same architecture the composer used to improvise upon in the original. So, for 35 minutes, the listener is treated to a truly original interpretation of Monk and his lyrical ideas. This is a classic by Perelman, no apology necessary.

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