Certain prejudices may actually invalidate criticism entirely, at least in terms of artists looking for insight into their own accomplishments. Trumpeter and arranger John McDonough's project is a combo playing and sometimes radically reinterpreting the songbook of Thelonious Monk. The name of the group is an amusing pun based on one of Monk's song titles, "Brilliant Corners," instead this is Brilliant Coroners, not to be confused with several other jazz and rock combos named directly after the song in question. Monk would have liked that pun, it can be guessed, just as it can be guessed that he would have been horrified with some of these arrangements, slamming the door to his bedroom the way pianist Joel Forrester describes in one of the biographies of this jazz genius. All of this is at the heart of the prejudicial opinions mentioned at the outset, as a key question no matter what key these tunes are in seems to be what is actually proper behavior for playing a Monk tune? The more personality a composer has, the more unique his vision is, the more these prejudices may come up, criticism admittedly being one of the less destructive bastions of prejudice available on the free market. Some listeners would say rock & roll or funk versions of Monk tunes are a horrible thing, referencing tacky aspects of the culture that the extremely special Monk compositions do not include in their outlook, it as if things like that do not exist. Monk did not need to do The Twist. It is kind of like Alice going down the rabbit hole and finding MTV waiting for her.
Ears prejudiced this way would conclude that the more Brilliant Coroners sounds like an actual Monk recording, the better the group is, particularly pianist Andy Pritikin. McDonough plays some superb solos on trumpet; reaction to saxophonist Jody Espina again is hampered by expectations of what might be called "Monky business" if puns are the order of the day. He is too flowery and demonstrative, as if trying to whip the audience up, when the music is better served by the cooler approach of a Charlie Rouse. A track combining "Well You Needn't" and "Straight No Chaser" is excellent, small combo modern jazz on the level of Charles Mingus, who did similar things with Monk themes. Guitarist Doug Henderson created a similar heavy metal approach to "Brilliant Corners" back in the '90s; here we have an intersection between that and a reverent presentation which while swinging, discredits the pomposity of the rockout while it is still ringing in the ears. Pastiche in the style of John Zorn also falls to the axe when it comes to some kind of refreshing new Monk interpretation. Funny, these themes, for example how often musicians foul up the Monk sound when normalizing a chord voicing, even a passing chord, with something that sounds like regular music. Meanwhile, as just admitted, making it sound even less normal is also something of a drag. A truly brilliant coroner would be the one who makes the corpse the most presentable to a public viewing. Monk's music shows no signs of mortality at all, this group being one of many such projects devoted to it internationally. The pure feeling of intellectual freedom somehow encompassed in these pieces is not about discouraging anyone from doing their own thing. The reality may just be there is not much anybody can do to improve these songs. The idea of new arrangements shouldn't be to make them sound worse.