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Miles Okazaki: Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk, Volumes 1-6 (Miles Okazaki)

Review of the first recorded solo-guitar rendering of every Monk composition—70 tracks in all

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Cover of Miles Okazaki six-volume set Work
Cover of Miles Okazaki six-volume set Work

“Exhaustive” is certainly a word that comes to mind for Work. Miles Okazaki was armed only with his solo guitar when he recorded all 70 known compositions by Thelonious Monk (70 being the number included in Steve Cardenas and Don Sickler’s Thelonious Monk Fakebook). It’s an undertaking of such ambition, even Monk never got there: Work includes “52nd Street Theme,” “Two Timer,” and “A Merrier Christmas,” compositions that the legendary pianist didn’t record himself.

To hear individual tracks, though, is not to be hit in the face with any sort of grandiose intent. Each is a stark, unadorned guitar solo, lightly amplified and fingerpicked, without effects pedals or post-production processing or thickets of overdubs. Textures vary not at all across the 70 tunes, tone very little—except where Okazaki can alter it with his fingers alone. The variation comes from the compositions, and whatever Okazaki feels the need to bring to them. He makes some surprising, sometimes amusing but usually fulfilling stylistic choices: “A Merrier Christmas” and “Monk’s Mood” both read like Appalachian folk ballads, “Skippy” like 1950s rockabilly. It’s an exposition of the art of the guitarist, if nothing else.

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