Monday, February 6, 2017
Ensembles Big & Small (Pt 1
"Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares" (Red Piano Records) is the first full album recorded by the 18-member Frank Carlberg Ensemble (an earlier version of the ensemble recorded two songs for the Fresh Sound New Talent 2003 album "The Sound of the New York Underground"). After listening to the recording on and off for the past several months, I truly believe you will not hear a better big band album this year (maybe its equal but none better). Why? Well, the band is loaded with first-class musicians (listed below) and Carlberg's pieces (the only Monk work is "Round Midnight") are so intelligent, filled with twists, turns, references to and quotes from the master's work that the music sounds contemporary. The rhythm section - Carlberg (piano, Rhodes), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), and Michael Sarin (drums) - often stirs the pot but also play in ways that cause the music to move in fascinating directions. So much happens in this music. There's the rambunctious "Dry Bean Stew" that opens the program on a truly playful (listen to how the rhythms shift from march time to swing to post bop to blues and elsewhere). "Rhymes", which, after the opening bass solo, features the voice of Paul Lichter reading the poem "Rhymes with Monk" by Clark Coolidge. Jeremy Udden (alto saxophone) and David Smith (trumpet) add atmospheric counterpoint. "A Darker Shade of Light Blue" pits snippets of Monk's melody with several instruments flitting around, not as counterpoint but like birds outside the window curious at the sound. All but the bass and drums drop out as Brian Landrus solos on bass clarinet until the ensemble returns and the piece takes off with the trumpet of John Carlson rising out over the powerful rhythm section.
The program closes with Monk's "Round Midnight"; this impressive arrangement could be subtitled "Concerto for Knuffke" as Kirk Knuffke's expressive cornet is the main voice throughout the 11 minutes. Listen to how the leader arranges the "voices" in the different sections, looking for lightness from the reeds and depth from the trombones, to how Sarin dances about beneath the rhythm, which is suggested by the piano and bass. And the solo is just fascinating. Conversational, angry, playful, emotional, sad, all that and powerful as well. There are moments when the piece sounds like Miles Davis working with an arrangement by Gil Evans in that genre disappears and it's really pure music (to these ears).
"Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares", despite its title, is an uplifting set of music, a 70-minute program that keeps on giving each time you listen. Frank Carlberg channels the spirit of Thelonious Monk but does not imitate or rearrange his melodies. This is "inspired" music of the highest order and the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble fires on all cylinders. Wow!
For more information, go to www.redpianorecords.com/releases/.
Kirk Knuffke, John Carlson, Dave Smith, Jonathan Powell (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet)
Alan Ferber, Brian Drye, Chris Washburne, Max Seigal (trombone, bass trombone)
John O'Gallagher, Jeremy Udden, Sam Sadigursky, Adam Kolker, Brian Landrus (saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet)
Christine Correa (voice)
Frank Carlberg (piano, Rhodes)
Johannes Weidenmueller (bass)
JC Sanford (conductor)
Paul Lichter (spoken word)
Here's an introduction to the album:
This album is a treat from start to finish, which is the best way to listen. There are moments when the music feels like a John Coltrane date from the late 1950s and a bit like Thelonious Monk in the deliberate way in which the melody is played on several tracks. The mix of Vinnie Sperrazza, Peter Brendler, Chris Speed, and Bruce Barth works well together, each plays to his strength while also being attentive to the others. Delightful music that calls for repeated listens, that is the joy of "Juxtaposition."
For more information, go to www.vinniesperrazza.org.
Here's the opening track: