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Friday, June 20, 2014

Wolfgang Schmidtke Orchestra - Monk's Mood (Jazzwerkstatt, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

"Monk's Mood" is a loving and hard swinging tribute to the great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, a live session with two recording dates, in June of 1999 and December of 2001.  Featured are two veteran musicians who have imbibed Monk's music throughout their careers, continuing to promote his music as well as their own -- saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.  Wolfgang Schmidtke plays alto and soprano sax, as well as bass clarinet, leading the ten person orchestra on a variety of tunes by Monk and by Lacy.  

The music is energetic and very fluid -- there are no ponderous or overly meditative moments.  Once the  performance starts, the band comes out charging!  Standout tunes are the opening track "Blinks," written by Lacy, a strong hard bop tune with great playing by either Lacy or Schmidtke, strongly evoking the percussive piano playing of Monk and his signature hesitations.  Monk's "Introspection" is a wild, almost free form version featuring Lacy or Schmidtke with a Coltrane like spiritual blowing that evokes Coltrane's Africa Brass.  Another Lacy tune, "Esteem," showcases von Schlippenbach as he provides Monk like odd key signatures and phrasings.   

Overall, one gets the feeling of a deep love for the music, as well as it being so ingrained and rehearsed that the tunes seem effortless, dynamic and fun.  The humor, quirkiness and intelligence of Monk is more apparent as a result, and everyone feels so loose that it feels spontaneous.  "Monk's Mood" is not just tribute album, but a celebration of innovative music.