Thursday, April 19, 2018

Three Gig Night

Saturday evening April 28, CT jazz mavens have a tough decision to make. Do they head to Middletown and Wesleyan University to catch T.S. Monk celebrate the music of his father, Thelonious Monk?  Perhaps, there's drummer. composer, and arranger John Hollenbeck who brings his Large Ensemble to Western CT State University for a rare appearance. Then again, you may want to take a trip to Old Lyme to see/hear saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman perform with his Expansions quintet.  What's a fan to do?

A number of great jazz artists celebrated their 100th birth anniversaries in 2017, none, arguably, more influential than Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917 - 1982).  Monk moved out of the post-World War II "be-bop" explosion to create a music that had its roots in blues, in "free" improvisation, in melodic adventure, with an uncanny sense of creating melodies that caught your ear and, often, made the listener want to tap his feet and shake his head.  While Monk only published 60+ compositions in his career, many of them have served as guideposts for several generations of creative musicians, from John Coltrane to Jason Moran and beyond.

T.S. Monk (born 1949) played in his dad's band later in the elder Monk's career. After his father's passing, the son created the Thelonious Monk Institute, not only to honor his memory but also to help young musicians along their way. The son had success in the r'n'b field in a group that featured his sister Barbara but turned to jazz in the 1990s, traveling the world and continuing his father's legacy.

T.S. Monk brings his Sextet to Crowell Concert Hall, Wyllys Avenues, in Middletown for an 8 p.m. concert.  Titled "Celebrating 100 Years of Thelonious Monk", the drummer/leader heads a fine band that includes the excellent young pianist Theo Hill plus Willie Williams (tenor saxophone), Randall Haywood (trumpet), April May Webb (vocals), Patience Higgins (alto saxophone, flute), and Kenny Davis (bass) - I realize that it's actually a septet but that's jazz for you.  For ticket information, go to

Here's a track from one of T.S. Monk's early (1997) tributes to his father:

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble gathers at 7 p.m. in the Veronica Wegman Concert Hall, 43 Lake Avenue Extension on the campus of Western CT State University in Danbury.  The 20-member ensemble is celebrating its 20th anniversary (!) have a new album, "All Can Work", released earlier this year on New Amsterdam Records (my review is here).  The album illustrates Hiollenbeck's myriad influences, from Kenny Wheeler to William Shakespeare to Billy Strayhorn to Cary Grant's experiments with LSD to the great trumpet teacher and Ensemble member Laurie Frink (who passed in 2013), and more.   The biggest influences on the composer and arranger Hollenbeck have been his long associations with Meredith Monk and Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011).  One can hear the influences in the melodies the drummer creates, how he uses voice, and his fascinating arrangements.

I love how this group can go from "a whisper to a scream" in a heartbeat, how the solos grow organically out of the ensemble work, and how vocalist Theo Bleckmann is part of the ensemble sound as well as lead vocalist.  The band is stocked with many of the best musicians working in creative music, many of whom have been members since the group's inception.  For more information and a listing of the personnel, go to

Here's the JHLE in action:

Photo: Wolfgang Gonaus
Saxophonist, flute player, and composer Dave Liebman is in the midst of a long and successful career. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1946, the NEA Jazz Master (2011) first came to critical notice in the 1970s playing join the bands of Miles Davis and Elvin Jones. His association with pianist Richie Bierach began during that time period, culminating with the fusion-jazz group Lookout Farm whose early albums on ECM are quite impressive.  He's recorded with so many people, teaches now at the Manhattan School of Music even as he conducts workshops all around there world.  Liberian continues to work with Bierach in various settings including the powerful Quest group (with drummer Billy Hart and bassist Ron McClure).  In recent years, he's recorded with Saxophone Summit, with the University of Toronto (CA) Jazz Orchestra, with percussionist Adam Rudolph, with the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, and his own Big Band.

Dave Liebman returns to The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme with his impressive Expansions quintet.  This band - Matt Vashlishan (alto sax, flute, clarinet), Bobby Avey (piano, keyboards), Alex Ritz (drums, percussion), and Tony Marino (bass, electric bass) - has been in existence for eight years, has released three albums on Whaling City Sounds, and stays busy with tours and residencies.  The music covers a large swath of musical territory with all members contributing original material and arrangements.

The first set commences at 8:30 p.m.  For more information and reservations, go to or call 860-434-2600.

Here's Expansions dancing its way through one of Wayne Shorter's classic tunes:

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