REVIEW Thelonious Monk at 100: Monk at Town Hall 1959 at Cadogan Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Charles Tolliver directing the ensemble at Cadogan Hall
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer
Thelonious Monk at 100: Monk at Town Hall 1959. 
(Cadogan Hall, 19 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Jonathan Gee, Tony Kofi and a host of other musicians undertook a massive labour of love at the Cadogan Hall: playing every one of Thelonious Monk's compositions in recognition of his centenary. Over three different sessions and several hours, the day culminated in a performance of Monk's Town Hall concert from 1959.

The arrangements, originally by Hal Overton, were transcribed Charles Tolliver from the original LP release. He conducted the music in New York in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of the recording, and reprised that role in London, as well as joining the band on a couple of trumpet solos.

But it was a solo rendition of In Walked Bud by Gee at the piano that got the evening underway. Simultaneously respectful and inventive, Gee dug deep within the tune, coming up with something new.

Charles Tolliver
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer
Gradually he was joined by other members of the band: first a trio, then a quartet, and finally the full ten piece plus Tolliver. Every piece was familiar - Blue Monk, Rhythm-a-ning, Monk's Mood, Crepuscule With Nellie - but the lush arrangements of brass and reeds gave a new perspective. It was like seeing an old friend in new clothes.

Tolliver was centre stage, back to the audience, energetically punching and grasping for different emphasis, almost choreographed to the music. He stood to the side for the solos, giving others the chance to express themselves. Ed Jones' tenor was forceful and muscular, whilst Jason Yarde on alto was at times as jagged as Monk's rhythms.

On Little Rootie Tootie, one of many high points, Kofi's baritone solo was impassioned, screaming out the high notes as if in triumph. The brass blasted out the riff. Gee's attack at the piano was so forceful he lured himself out of the piano stool.

Gee's playing was superlative all evening, exploiting the rhythms and melodies and finding new interpretations. But it was the luscious, sonorous brass arrangements that really made this such a special evening.

Full personnel:
Jonathan Gee - piano
Ben Hazelton - bass
Rod Youngs - drums
Ed Jones - tenor saxophone
Tony Kofi - baritone saxophone
Jason Yarde - alto saxophone
Dennis Rollins - trombone
Neil Yates - trumpet
Jim Rattigan - french horn
Andy Grappy - tuba
Charles Tolliver - conductor and trumpet

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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