Recorded during a German tour in 1996, Schlippenbach Plays Monk teams the esteemed pianist with Ino Nobuyoshi on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. Schlippenbach has played with both sidemen previously (Nobuyoshi can be heard with the Schlippenbach/Takase-led Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra and Murray on the excellent FMP album Smoke) but this tour was the first that brought them all together and the pairing brings an interesting dynamic to the often revisited Thelonious Monk songbook. Murray is the better known of the two, his wide open sense of time played a pivotal roll in the initial wellspring of the avant-garde in his work with Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, and on his own as a leader, too. Nobuyoshi is no slouch either and is one of the most in-demand bassists in Japan, playing with Kazumi Watanabe, Masayuki Takayanagi, Aki Takase and perhaps most notably with Lester Bowie. Of the two, Nobuyoshi is the more transmutable player, able to slip in and out of mainstream and outside playing with a deceptive ease while maintaining a distinctly confident approach; Murray isn't limited to one style of play either, but whether he's swinging cool or burning his wings ascending to the sun, one crash of the cymbal and he is recognizable as no one else other than Sunny Murray. And on their collective tight-wire of precision and fire rides is Schlippenbach in a loving set that is probably the closest thing to a straight tribute to Monk that he has been recorded. It's closer to his standards quartet work on Night and Day than his typical trio recordings with Paul Lovens and Evan Parker, but the trio does step out of its reverent circle on "Trinkle Tinkle" -- a favorite of the pianists that he and Murray cut on Smoke as well -- "Skippy" and "Light Blue." Schlippenbach explains his interpretation of these songs quite well in the liner notes, the summarized version could be described as reveling in Monk's atonal points of departure. Monk in fact, is a constant point of departure and return for Schlippenbach and fully immersed in Thelonious as he is here, he is rapturous; may he have many returns.
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AllMusic Review by Wade Kergan