Umberto Petrin

Monk's World

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Unless played by Marilyn Crispell or Cecil Taylor, there's something wrong with the music of Thelonious Monk being played on a Bösendorfer grand piano. That's the first problem here, anyway. The second one is in trying to take Monk's music and turn it into a kind of 20th century classical music that is somehow more difficult to play than it was and to invoke Amiri Baraka's fine poem "Monk's World" as some kind of justification. Umberto Petrin is a classical musician who has recorded a disc of mainly Monk tunes and gimmicked them up in such a way that is almost literally impossible to hear the spirit of the original composer in them -- but to be fair, even if he had played them straight their execution is so florid and non-percussive it would have been hard to tell. Petrin starts the set by doing sort of a four-handed version of "Epistrophy" that changes the harmonies around in such a way that they no longer make sense on Monk's context. He then combines, á la Steve Lacy, "Evidence" and "Trinkle Trinkle." Now, on a solo soprano saxophone where you can feel the shifts and angles of the harmonies, they inform and then separate from one another in one thing. On a piano where every nuance is accounted for and over played it's quite another. By the time Petrin gets to his awful, even horrid combination of "Green Chimneys" with "Two," it's enough to make a true Monk fan scream. When the set ends with "Crepescule With Nellie" there is a sigh of relief in that, for one, he played it straight and tried to get some of the accents right without smoothing them over. He fails miserably, but there is an honest effort not to improve upon Monk's original genius.

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