Taking a musical risk is akin to “running with scissors.” One slip, stumble or fall can cause unpleasant results. Let’s get this straight. Pianist and composer, Bruce Dudley could be content at his University teaching posts in Nashville, TN, teaching students, performing faculty recitals, and publishing in the music journals. He could easily turn out the lights at the end of each day and lead a comfortable life in relative obscurity.
But NO, instead he accepts the highly risky challenge of doing something fresh and appealing with compositions of the Jazz Icon, Thelonious Monk. Kidding right? Who wants to take a chance and mess with an original like Monk? To do so, there must be no shortage of confidence and imagination. These characteristics must be mixed with real talent and taste to make the result jump out and stand out. So the puzzle is how to do something unique with something so unique in the first place.
Got your attention? No doubt, Thelonious Monk made an eternal impact on the musical landscape, so tread lightly on the legacy Mr. Dudley. You are skating on sacred musical ice.
What is the result? Bruce Dudley’s “Mostly Monk” respectfully takes the music of Thelonious Monk and lifts it to a new level with his musical imagination and masterful creativity. He is supported by a cast of world class musicians who give Mr. Monk’s music new life through the interpretations of Mr. Dudley.
Out of the gate, Mr. Dudley, presents “Four in One” as an appetizer, and quickly shows his command and respect of Mr. Monk’s music. The quartet uses its collective ears in respect and admiration for the composer and his place in history. The assignment is to listen to this track as hard as the musicians did when they recorded it. JUST TRY!
A quick read of the liner notes reveals that an equally important aspect of this project is the use of the classical string ensemble as a canvas for Mr. Dudley’s interpretations. “Ask Me Now” is a deep and complex arrangement very “Monkishly” applied to strings.
Next, who would have thought to take two compositions and combine them into a single musical arrangement? “Monk’s Dream/Little Rootie Tootie”. And just for fun, meld the jazz quartet and the strings which are used to comp the soloist and as an ensemble with saxophone section-like harmonies and runs. Drummer Jim White is a one-man percussion section with huge melodic proportion. More on Mr. White later. This is just a nice taste.
This project is not exclusively devoted to Thelonious Monk. With “Tango D’Orfeo” Mr. Dudley's composition explores the Argentine Tango. Keeping with the theme, as long as you have the strings, why not incorporate them as an integral part of stylistic interpretation. The mix of meters and slow melody “with attitude” makes for a wonderfully complex listen.
Enough of this organized and structured material. Why not just open up a few tunes and let them breathe? Exactly what Mr. Dudley asks his quartet to do with “Played Twice” and “Pannonica” “Think of One”, Jim White introduces the melody with the drums. WHAT? EXACTLY! Mr. Dudley creates free and breathing arrangements without encumbrance. ENJOY.
Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” and Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” are two more wonderful compositions to integrate strings. The rich chord progressions provide the foundation and Mr. Dudley takes it from there. Great choices! So much music going on with these tunes.
How about closing things out with Ornette Coleman’s composition “Free”? The strings boldly announce the melody. The rhythm section of Mr. White and Mr. Spencer pick up by digging in and saying “Mr. Dudley, can you come out and play?” Ready, fire, aim. Let’s just go with it.
By now, the astute listener will have ripped into the CD package to find out who these fine jazz musicians are supporting Mr. Dudley. These musicians are all very close friends and have played countless gigs and sessions together. Good friends can create a kind of music only possible due to the deep friendships. Like siblings who often finish each other’s sentences, there is a bond that develops. Listen to the quartet playing with this in mind and you will hear the friendship in the playing.
Don Aliquo plays Tenor Saxophone. Besides, being Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Saxophone at the Middle Tennessee State University’s, Mr. Aliquo is an accomplished and highly sought after leader and collaborator with many performing, recording and clinician credits to his name. His contribution to this project shows not only his beautiful sound but also his close friendship with Mr. Dudley.
The Bass duties are shared by Roger Spencer and Jim Ferguson. Two wonderful players well established in the Nashville scene and in constant demand. Both have complete command over their instrument which let’s their musical personalities come through clearly.
Drummer Jim White is a musical beast with playing and teaching credits galore. Sorry Mr. White, you can no longer hide in the weeds unrecognized for the true musician you are. It’s long overdue that Mr. White be recognized as one of the finest musicians on the scene anywhere today. Top of mind for Mr. White is being musical which is evident in his expressive playing. Never “chopping” the listener to death. Oh no! The opposite is true for sure. His weapon of choice is death by a thousand cuts of melodic and rhythmic musicianship. Jim White understands what the ensemble needs musically and delivers every time. To get this at a deep level, commit yourself to just one listen focusing on the drums. Enough said. “Think of One” is a crystal clear example. Any questions?
Mr. Dudley, thank you for taking the risk, composing and arranging this music in a new light and giving the listener something special.
Tracks: Four in One, Ask Me Now, Monk’s Dream/Little Rootie Tootie, Tango D’Orfeo, Played Twice, Pannonica, Isfahan, Think of One, The Peacocks, Free
Musicians: Bruce Dudley, Piano and Arrangements, Jim White, Drums, Don Aliquo, Tenor Saxophone, Jim Ferguson and Roger Spencer, Bass, David Davidson and David Angell, Violins, Chris Farrell, Viola, Sari Reist, Matt Slocum, and Matt Walker, Cello
Artist's Website: www.BruceDudleymusic.com
These are my comments. I welcome yours.