JULIE LYON QUINTET – JULIE (Unseen Rain UR9957)
By Bruce Crowther http://jazzmostly.com/
This is another debut album, this time bringing to wide attention singer Julie Lyon who leads her New York Quartet through a selection of songs, mostly familiar, that display her rhythmic ease and intelligent interpretations. Among the songs performed here are Love For Sale, Dr Lonnie Smith’s Too Damn Hot, for which Julie has provided lyrics, Bye Bye Blackbird, Strollin’, Dindi an
(Matt Lavelle – cornet, Flugelhorn, alto clarinet; John Pietaro – vibraphone, bodhrán, congas, percussion)
Just when you think Thelonious Monk’s music couldn’t get a new spin, along comes John Pietaro and Matt Lavelle’s 73-minute, ten-track Monk tribute, Harmolodic Monk. Lavelle states he wanted to explore the musical ideas of both Monk and Ornette Coleman, and came up with the notion of imbuing well-known Monk tunes with Coleman’s harmolodic philosophy. Turns out, the blend is both distinctive and appealing. While Monk’s music is adventurously articulated in a fresh approach, Lavelle and Pietaro’s specific instruments also provide a singular characteristic. Monk made use of tenor sax and sometimes trumpet, and Lavelle’s cornet, Flugelhorn and alto clarinet tint Monk’s compositions with an ample array of auditory paints. Interestingly, the duo does not employ a keyboard setup. Instead of piano, Pietaro has a vibraphone, which brings a satiating aspect to the material. He also slips in percussion devices—including bodhrán and congas—to offer intriguing rhythmic support.
The twosome opens with an azure, atmospheric adaptation of “Epistrophy.” Lavelle plays a sonorous introduction on his breathy alto clarinet, and then Pietaro flicks in light percussive effects which gradually become noisier, before he shifts to vibes while continuing to add occasional percussive accents. This may not be a rendition listeners will recognize, so be forewarned. The theme is imparted, but the arrangement is novel, and it might take a few times for some Monk aficionados to appreciate this. Lavelle’s alto clarinet becomes a bit discordant here and there, and the instrumental minimalism may also take some time for some to embrace. Lavelle’s alto clarinet receives the spotlight on his solo version of “Crepuscule with Nellie,” which is misspelled throughout the CD artwork [Spellcheck anyone?]. Lavelle’s deep, bass notes show Monk’s reflective side and each precisely-placed note echoes and glides. Engineer Jim DeSalvo utilizes a very close microphone for this tune, and if listeners got any nearer to the music, they’d have to crawl inside the clarinet.
Pietaro’s vibes are found on much of the material, but are noticeably pronounced on a trio of tracks in the middle of the CD. His vibes and some sparse percussion are the only instruments during a suitably sublime take of “Ruby My Dear.” Pietaro begins with unhurriedly positioned notes. The tempo picks up slightly here and there, but mostly Pietaro lets his notes linger in the air. The result defines the term gossamer: delicate, ethereal and meticulous as a spider’s filament. Lavelle and Pietaro form a sympathetic musical partnership on a modish and thoroughly modernistic “Let’s Cool One,” one of the album’s highpoints. During his soloing, Lavelle aims toward the main theme but rarely stays there, but familiarity gels when he and Pietaro perform together, and trade lines, swap notes and otherwise show how well vibes and horn can present Monk without further assistance from other players. Another memorable piece is a ten-minute makeover of “Blue Monk.” It is mischievous without being banal. Lavelle displays his witty viewpoint on his horn, while Pietaro fills in the spaces on vibes. But even when there is space which could have been propped up, there is a sense of striking significance. Monk could and did use space, and Pietaro and Lavelle also comprehend that less can say a lot more. The tune escalates near the end, especially as Lavelle reels off twisting notes on his horn, sometimes recalling Don Cherry when Cherry was in Ornette Coleman’s band.
The proceedings also attain an unruly and vigorous activity on “Green Chimneys,” where Lavelle switches between cornet and Flugelhorn while Pietaro ratchets up the energy level with fast-paced hand percussion. This translation has an unrestricting, exultant elation, and swirls with affirmation. Pietaro also exhibits his rhythmic fluctuations on a scratchy “Monk’s Mood,” where Lavelle dubs overlapping horns into the edgy arrangement as Pietaro layers various percussion tools into the ever-increasing track. This is open and demonstrative music: free to go where it wants to go and expressive of both Monk’s and Coleman’s creativity. Of course, music this multihued and direct needs proper production. DeSalvo’s engineering, mixing and mastering gives these Monk tunes a sonic engagement, and he also supplies a method which makes the horns, vibes and percussion very much front and center. The way notes remain in the air or span across the left and right channels is brilliant. Even intermittent hum in the quietest moments does not detract but preserves an honest mannerism. Well done to Lavelle, Pietaro and DeSalvo. [Unfortunately Amazon only has an MP3 version of this.]
TrackList: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys; Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Ruby My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk; Monk’s Mood; In Walked Bud.
Fra la musica di Thelonious Monk e quella di Ornette Coleman c´è una bella distanza, eppure i due autori di questa incisione sono riusciti a eliminarla e fare un omaggio a Monk differente da tutto quello fatto finora (e non è poco!) dai colleghi. Matt Lavelle, qui alla cornetta, flicorno e clarinetto alto ha studiato con Ornette Coleman e suonato insieme a Bern Nix, chitarrista nello storico gruppo Prime Time di Coleman. Il concetto armolodico sviluppato dal famoso sassofonista è applicato alle melodie scritte da Monk, insieme a Lavelle c´è John Pietaro, che si esibisce al vibrafono ed alle percussioni, alle bongas ed al bodhrán, che è un tamburello della tradizione irlandese. Come funziona? Benissimo! La musica liberata da qualunque centro tonale, così come predica ancora Coleman, respira, e qui il vibrafono fa la sua parte, molto empatico con gli strumenti di Lavelle. È un piacere ascoltarli dall´inizio alla fine su brani conosciutissimi, Ruby My Dear, Blue Monk, Pannonica. L´unico pezzo registrato con la tecnica della sovrincisione è Monk´s Mood, qui il clarinetto alto e la cornetta giocano a cercarsi sullo sfondo delle percussioni di Pietaro. Non poteva mancare Round Midnight, che in questa veste minimalista diventa un brano dalla bellezza soffusa, notturna come vuole il titolo. L´idea dei due musicisti e del produttore Jack De Salvo è realizzata perfettamente, così che ci troviamo davanti ad un disco che potrebbe diventare una pietra miliare del genere. Chissà che qualcun altro, ascoltata tanta bellezza, non pensi ad un trattamento armolodico delle musiche di Duke Ellington o Rodgers & Hart.
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Monk’s Music is interpreted with thought, creativity and a hint of mystery by this imaginative duo. It’s definitely Monk with all sorts of new shadings and colors, and it works well. Ten Monk classics are newly examined with imagination in high gear. A must hear for Monk fans.
By Mark S. Turner
Perhaps the most interesting element in this recording is the ‘live in studio’ nature lending a great deal of atmosphere and beatnik cafe society vibe to the affair. Well, actually, I’m assuming it was thus live ’cause it sure as hell sounds it—if not, if there are overdubs and such, then Tom Tedesco possesses some supernatural talents as an engineer. Singer Julie Lyon exhibits a large element of the happy-go-lucky in her swinging recitations, perhaps most vividly shown in her take on Dindi, about the snappiest version I’ve heard yet in a song that’s been undergoing quite a renaissance in revisitations recently. Then there are the laid back, casual, way hip quotations from the quartet backing her, sounding as though just returned from a break in the back alley where the subject of ‘discussion’ was muggles, Jack Daniels, and maybe a nip or two of Romilar.
I mean, everything here is so strongly reminiscent of one of those way cool Shag (Josh Agle) paintings that I practically hear the painter’s vivid mono- and multi-chromatics and urbane exotica in the CD. Then come all the off-the-cuff incidentals the band adds in—catch especially Matt Lavelle’s throaty bass clarinet fog in Every Time We Say Goodbye, so husky it’s almost aromatic—alongside Lyon’s friendly counter-culture intonations, a college girl matriculating in Hip 101. Bobby Brennan has the band nailed in with his solid bass work, and Tom Cabrera’s drumming evokes mental images of Maynard G. Krebs standing by, fingers snapping, grin wreathing Fu Manchu’ed face, while Jack DeSalvo’s guitar is a mercurial presence, dashing in for a doo-wop quotation, then sliding back out again.
Lavelle, though is oft striking, as present and in the pocket as Lyon, he blazing (as in the trumpet work in Too Damn Hot) while she smile-sings seductively, caught between wanting to gambol in the sun, grab that martini on the sidebar, and/or wink at the guy who just strolled in, tan, lean, and mysterious. All or Nothing at All undergoes a modern art treatment, pointillistic and fragmentary, Lyon holding everything together while the guys get jagged and rambly. Then she clarifies and espanola-izes Tom Waits bizarre Temptation, turning it from a near-inchoate schizophrenic blues into something the Asylum Street Spankers would’ve produced. And if I pen any more paeans here, I’m going to have to check into Keroauc Rehab and have my typewriter re-tuned, so why not just glom the CD and just dig what’s goin’ down, gator.
Edited by: David N. Pyles (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Unlike so many past masters tributes which feature some of the subject writer’s work, then a smattering of tunes cherished by the deceased mainman, and finally cuts written by the tributees, Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro’s Harmolodic Monk is 100% Thelonius cuts stretched and refabricated by a horn player and percussionist stripping everything down to bare essentials before getting melodically and environmentally inventive. The baseline is Monk’s mind and work, the rest is a matter of their own chops and cerebrations. The ultra-moody and atmospheric Epistrophy kicks the slab off, giving a clear indication of just what the listener is in for…and I’ll warn right now that if you can’t tune, de-tune, and re-tune your brain and ears, this is not the disc for you.
In the tradition of the more outside Enja, Ogun, and other labels’ works, then the spirit of Lol Coxhill, Anthony Braxton, and of course Ornette Coleman, whose unorthodox talents continue to pervade and open up the extremities of aesthetics, this duo adeptly embraces what a promo sheet writer cited as “the dichotomy of ancient pre-Western approaches and extreme modernism”. I tried my best to upend or at least modify that appraisal but couldn’t. Whoever that cat was, he nailed it to the wall, then put a frame around it. There is indeed a wide time-span of prototypes, influences, and expansions present, sometimes bewilderingly so as things morph and bend. Pannonica is particularly apt, at one moment sounding like the bell music of Alain Kremski (Pietaro and his wondrous vibes), then a boozy Louis Armstrong (Lavelle’s ever-changing horns) leading into a stream-of-consciousness section.
All the cuts flow in that fashion, the listener not for a moment let to wander but instead led from one intriguing section to the next, never knowing what will come but alive and alert for whatever may arise. Harmolodic, if I haven’t made it clear, is free jazz, improvisational to a fault but based in previously set work. I suspect that if Lester Bowie and his Art Ensemble were forced to pare down to a duet, the result would be very much like this. Jack DeSalvo produced the disc but his brother Jim is the engineer, and Jim’s capture of everything is arresting: clear, lucid, adroitly attuned to shifting focal depths, never at a loss, providing everything this work needed to entablature itself with zero ambivalence. The holidays are over, y’all: heave the tabernacle choirs and E-Z jazz fluff and get back to deepening the crenellations in your grey matter.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.