2 April in Paris
4 Ugly Beauty
5 Crepescule for Nellie
6 Monk's Mood
7 I SHould Care
8 Ghost of a Chance
9 Blues Five Spot
Total time: 1.02.49
Deep Monk - Jessica Williams on Red and Blue Records (2008) By Dan McClenaghan
Do we really need another tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk? Everybody who is anybody in the jazz game has put a Monk song on an album. Some have been so bold as to dedicate an entire album to the odd and angular songs full of playful dissonance and unexpected angles.
Not easy tunes to play, they say. But the jazz family patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, does a masterful job of it on An Open Letter to Thelonious (ELM Music, 2008), employing, as Monk did almost exclusively in the masterful twilight years of his career at Columbia Records, a quartet fronted by a saxophone.
Pianist Jessica Williams, with Deep Monk, goes another route: playing Monk compositions—and tunes that Thelonious made his own: "Easy Street," "April in Paris," "Ghost of a Chance"—solo, a mode that Monk didn't go to often enough.
Williams' jazz world profile isn't where it should be, and her decision to forgo the major label game and sell only from her own website - a la ArtistShare - might contribute to a lower recognition factor. But listening to Tatum's Ultimatum (Red and Blue Recordings, 2008) or Songs for a New Century Origin Records, 2008) makes clear that Williams ranks with Keith Jarrett, or beyond.
Deep Monk does the same.
Monk himself closed his excellent and somewhat overlooked live album, Misterioso (Riverside Records, 1958), with its title tune, and Williams closed her own Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz, 2004) with it. She opens Deep Monk with that same, familiar melody, on a take that gets deep into the pensive beauty of Monk's mind.
Throughout the set—on classic, beautiful gems like "Crepuscule With Nellie," "Ugly Beauty," and "Blues Five Spot"- Williams explores the music of Monk with respect, alongside her own small flourishes and moments of unalloyed joy. She seems a perfect soul mate for that giant of jazz.
So, do we really need another Monk tribute? You're damned right we do: Deep Monk.
Visit Jessica Williams on the web.
Track listing: Misterioso; April in Paris; Easy Street; Ugly Beauty; Crepuscule With Nellie; Monk's Mood; I Should Care; Ghost of a Chance; Blues Five Spot. Personnel: Jessica Williams: piano. -By Dan McClenaghan, AllAboutJazz
Dear Jessica, I've just listened to Deep Monk. It takes my breath away. Thelonious Monk's music has given me life-long satisfaction and sustenance. You've brought me the same experience with your playing of it. I'm imagining his performances wafting in the air, filtered through a big, beautiful tree (your piano) and reaching my ears as I lay in a quiet meadow. The integrity of the songs is undiluted, unaffected. Your improvisation excites me. It's almost as if Thelonious had come back to us with some new interpretations. You are almost a genius. I don't use the G word anymore. :-D I congratulate you on a perfect album. - Curtis Plumb
"In the last few years many musicians have recorded Monk tunes. Jessica Williams is the only piano player I have heard who can play in a style that is an extension of Monk's original style. This is one of her many interesting CDs but this one is essential for any Monk fan. Ms. Williams manages to hold your interest from beginning to end on solo piano" - A music fan from Amazon.com buyer review
"In the Key of Monk and her other CDs, past and future, are worth whatever effort it takes to find them in a forest overgrown with ordinary jazz piano recordings" ***** (5 stars) Les Line
LA Times Archive for Tuesday, October 17, 2006 She channels Monk with spontaneity, creativity By Don Heckman - print edition E-5
One of a jazz musician’s most daunting tasks is to perform an extended program of material by another artist. And when the other artist is Thelonious Monk, the challenge increases exponentially.
But Jessica Williams was fully up to the task Sunday afternoon in her opening set for the David L. Abell Jazz Salon at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. Playing in utterly spontaneous fashion, she worked her way through what was essentially a 45- or 50-minute medley of Monk’s music.
Although she occasionally paused between pieces (drawing distracting smatterings of applause), Williams was clearly focused on making connections in suite-like fashion. As one selection concluded, she briefly stared intently at the piano gently rocking back and forth in rhythm before launching into another piece. The results were mesmerizing.
This is emotionally dangerous music, said Williams. The only way you can play it is to become an appendage of his [Monk’s] brain. She meant it humorously, of course.
But the way she tapped into Monk pieces such as ” ‘Round Midnight” and “Ruby, My Dear” – as well as the standards “I Should Care” and “Ghost of a Chance,” performed in Monk’s unique manner – suggested a kind of musical channeling tracing directly back to the bop master.
This was no simulation, however, no effort to simply replicate the originals. Williams fully understands the key components of Monk’s performing style – percussive touch, disjunct rhythms, sudden bursts of sound – and is well versed in his characteristic inverted chordal clusters, dissonant harmonies and frequent use of whole-tone melodic fragments.
But she filtered those elements through her own creativity – allowing her imagination to blend fully in a fashion that was neither fully Monk nor Williams, but a combination of both.
The second part of the program was filled with her own compositions – a touching waltz tribute to Rosa Parks, a harmonically roving jazz ballad dedicated to artist Elaine Arc, and the centerpiece of the set, “Love and Hate,” an atmospheric, quasi-classical piece.
Topping it off, “Blues for B.T.,” inspired by Billy Taylor, finally gave Williams an opportunity to display the fundamentals of her own, hard-swinging, bop-drenched improvisational style.
It was a fitting climax to an entrancing afternoon of music by one of jazz’s versatile, and too little known, pianists. - Don Heckman, LA Times
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