Published: August 10, 2014
“In multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle’s insightful blog, “That Fat Eb Feels Mahogany to Me,” he discusses a challenge shared by many jazz musicians: “With people doing more and more repertoire projects to get work and for sheer love of that artist, I have been thinking about ways to explore the relationships between the kings without doing a straight cop. Playing obscure tunes is one thing, but there must be a way to look at their work from a new perspective.”
Happily Lavelle and John Pietaro have found the answer in their excellent release Harmolodic Monk, where they infuse Thelonious Monk’s compositions with Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic philosophy. It’s a natural combination for both Lavelle and Pietaro, who have long enjoyed a fascination with Monk’s music, and now finds themselves in mid-career increasingly intrigued by Monk’s distinctive melodies and wide-interval blues-swing. Lavelle has also studied with Coleman for many years, both formally and informally, a relationship that has initiated Lavelle in the harmolodic universe as well as allowed him to find his own voice. In addition, Lavelle plays with the grand master Bern Nix, the guitarist in Coleman’s groundbreaking group Prime Time, providing a hands-on education in the art of free swing.
The combination of Monk and Coleman is delectable enough, but the duo adds other elements that invigorate the music. Monk used tenor sax and occasionally trumpet in his groups, so Lavelle’s alto clarinet, cornet, and flugelhorn saturate the tunes in a wider array of colors. They also dispense with piano and instead Pietaro plays vibraphone, which adds a pleasing dimension to the music, an airy openness that sets up beautiful resonances throughout. In addition to his vibraphone chops, Pietaro is a fine percussionist, adding tasteful accents on a range of instruments including the congas and the bodhrán (Irish frame drum). The duet format is also refreshing, allowing the brilliant corners of these melodies plenty of light to shine without unnecessary embellishment.
The resulting album is a pleasure from start to finish, an hour-and-a-half of fourteen classic Monk tunes, approached with joy and loving care. The album is full of old friends, including “Ruby, My Dear,” “Blue Monk,” “Epistrophy,” “Pannonica,” “Crepuscule with Nellie,” “Nutty”—the cream of the cream. All the songs are strong, including a spirited version of “In Walked Bud,” bolstered by Lavelle’s fat, warm cornet and Pietaro’s nimble chiming. “Monk’s Mood,” the album’s lone overdub, has a lively arrangement where the alto and cornet play hide-and-seek, with nice percussive accents by Pietaro throughout. And the duet’s version of “‘Round Midnight” is just sublime, with Lavelle’s alto perfectly capturing the song’s wistful poignancy, telling a story of lost loves and haunted places, both internal and external.
Judging from the luminous results on Harmolodic Monk, Lavelle and Pietaro have found—nay, invented—a fertile musical vein that’s ripe for exploration. Plans are afoot for Harmolodic Duke, Harmolodic Hot Five, and beyond. And why not? As Monk himself said: “All musicians stimulate each other. The vibrations get scattered around.”
By TIM NILAND, jazzandblues.blogspot.com
Published: Saturday, July 05, 2014
“Trumpeter, alto clarinet player and blogger extraordinaire Matt Lavelle has studied informally with the great jazz legend Ornette Coleman for several years. Coleman’s complex metaphysical and musical theory of harmolodics rubbed off on much of his playing, and on this project he is joined by percussionist and vibraphonist John Pietaro and uses the harmolodic theory on a set of songs by the great jazz composer Thelonious Monk. The Monk tunes are really well suited to this type of exploration since they are filled with spaces and jagged cliffs of sound that musicians can use to rappel from one slope to another. That is the thing about Thelonious Monk’s compositions, thought they have been played many times over the years, when musicians approach the songs with an open mind they are able to see within themselves and use that confidence to explore deeper. Songs like “Let’s Cool One”, “Monk’s Mood” and “In Walked Bud” keep the jaunty nod and wink feel of the originals, darting too and fro, while the moodier performances like on “Round Midnight” are filled with empty spaces, as if they are filled with longing and sadness.”
Published: December 9th, 2014
“They used to tell me Monk’s music was difficult because he wanted to trick Charley. They also told me his music was difficult because his fingers were to fat to hit’s the keys. In any case, this improvising duo of horn and percussion have succeeding in making Monk’s music even more difficult. This is as art’s councilly as improv jazz gets.”
Published: October 1st, 2014
“A very interesting album from Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro. The concept, and I love concept albums, is to use Monk compositions and Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic methods. Interestingly, we find John Pietraro on the vibraphone in addition to percussion leading to a unique duet. Matt Lavelle is found on his standard cornet/flugelhorn as well as alto clarinet which we have been seeing more of from Matt. A healthy offering at an hour and a half, Matt and John work their magic on recognizable standards, with a pleasant twist. Matt’s cornet and flugelhorn have never sounded better, bold and meaty, especially on the excellently executed “In Walked Bud”. Other standouts, “Blue Monk/ Straight No Chaser”, and the spacious and oozing with blues “Round Midnight”, showcase Matt on the alto clarinet. Recorded with an intimate feel it can be hard to remember you’re not actually in the room with the musicians.
Even though the album is worth hearing and adding to your collection, at 1 hr 33 mins it does tend to drag a little. I would have liked to hear more percussion mixed into the album, even with the strong performance of John on the vibes it was a challenge over the span of the album to keep focus. The cornet and flugelhorn, being the main instrument I’m familiar with Matt playing, were much stronger than his alto clarinet. Aside from his stellar showing on “Round Midnight”, I found myself preferring his sax playing.
While not an album that I would return to every day, it is a performance and concept so unique and creative it should be investigated by fans who have yet to hear it. And even though it is not my favorite release from Matt, it reenforces my ever growing admiration for his playing and creativity.”
Published: December 3, 2014
“Every time it looks like all the gold has been mined from Thelonious Monk’s music, somebody comes along to prove otherwise.
Harmolodic Monk finds multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle and percussionist John Pietaro applying saxophone icon(oclast) Ornette Coleman’s freeing philosophical ideal(s) to Monk’s oft-performed music. To some, the resultant performances may seem far more complex than the originals, complete with mind-expanding abstractions, reductions, and alterations. To others, this music may be very simple to grasp. In truth, both viewpoints are correct. The album-opening “Epistrophy,” painted with molasses and (de)constructed in unique fashion, and the penultimately-placed “Monk’s Mood,” built on a foundation of brooding uncertainty, make the argument for those who may tend to see the radical side of this music. Those same people, however, may feel differently when “Pannonica” begins. Lavelle’s alto clarinet glides through the start of that number with extreme directness.
With each track, Lavelle and Pietaro manage to find something new to say, moving away from Monk’s viewpoint and shifting gears from the previous number(s). Primal modernism wins out on “Green Chimneys,” the gentler side of Monk is taken to the outer limits in solo features for Lavelle (“Crepuscule With Nellie”) and Pietaro (“Ruby, My Dear”), and “Let’s Cool One,” bookended with Monk-ish stability, features a stunning brass cadenza at its core. Some classics still exude the charms they were born with (“Round Midnight”), but others lurk in the shadows, shrouded in mystery and veiled with individual expression.
Those who like their Monk straight, with no musical chasers, may have a hard time swallowing this music, but that’s a shame. There’s tremendous ingenuity and skill behind Harmolodic Monk. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro deserve a lot of credit for finding a new entryway into the oft-visited world of Thelonious Monk.”
Published: February 26, 2015
“The music of Thelonious Monk, if anything, has taken on increasing stature as a body of compositions central to the modern jazz experience. In the period following his leaving us, we see renewed attention to his recordings and a great array of contemporary jazz musicians who perform his music regularly. Steve Lacy was a pioneer in adventurously featuring Monk’s compositions long before it was fashionable. Nowadays his recordings of Thelonious’s music have achieved classic status.
Yet with the unforgettable melodic and harmonic qualities of his music there is always room for further explorations. It may not be a simple matter to make out of music so well known and widely played something very fresh. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro have done just that with their album Harmolodic Monk (UR Unseen Rain 9953).
The “Harmolodic” reference goes back to Ornette Coleman and his approach, specifically his freedom to go out of the expected key centers or improvisations around chord changes to modulate or introduce notes outside of the usual frame of tonal reference. It’s more than that but for now that will do. Matt and John approach the Monk material freely in this way, so they can stick to a tonality or general chord sequence and they freely can go outside of it, and that’s what they do and do well.
Matt and John take various approaches to the Monk pieces. Matt on trumpet, flugel and alto clarinet and John on vibes, congas, bodhran and percussion can lope along in tempo, play within the general harmonic structures or advance outwards, go for freetime multitempos or articulate in open tempo with solo horn or vibes, or in tandem.
Matt gives us his beautiful take on a classic burnished tone for his trumpet and flugel playing or he can go for a more punchy, brash sound when he feels the need to energize. He sounds quite well on the alto clarinet too, an instrument he has recently gotten into to replace his former doubling on bass clarinet. He sounds great on it. John plays some very appropriate and accomplished vibes as a key melodic and harmonic presence with Matt or in a solo context. His percussion and hand drumming give the music an additional sound that varies the proceedings nicely.
Throughout there is a great respect for the compositional Monk, due attention to the melodic essentials and a harmonic straightforwardness or an expansiveness as they feel it. It all works beautifully well and shows what two very inventive musical voices can produce when they look at Monk’s music in an open-form way.
I am impressed with the outing. I would love to hear them do something like this with a rhythm section next time, but the music speaks for now very articulately without it.
Matt and John have their full artistry on display. The results will absorb and move you. Very recommended listening!”
Published: February 5, 2015
“Harmolodic Monk is a very fresh approach to the music of Thelonious Monk played by Matt Lavelle (cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet) and John Pietaro (vibraphone, bodhran, congas and percussion). You will either love this or hate it. It’s not really my bag but I found it fascinating and compelling – two fine and creative musicians complementing each other and pointing a finger to a different direction for the music. I enjoyed the sound of the alto clarinet and the over dubbing on “Monks Mood”. This is not background music, you have to sit and listen to it.”
By: HOWARD LAWES, sandybrownjazz.co.uk
Published: January 31, 2015
“Harmolodic Monk is an album by Matt Lavelle playing by turns cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet and John Pietaro on vibraphone, bodhran, congas and percussion. There are 10 tracks with a total playing time of 72 minutes.
Quoting from the “Dissident Arts” website: “Harmolodic Monk” was the brainchild of noted cornet player Matt Lavelle after years of study with Ornette Coleman and ongoing performance and recording with the Bern Nix Quartet. Matt came across radical vibraphonist / percussionist John Pietaro during their mutual performance with the Ras Moshe Unit and the two quickly realized that their influences weighed heavily on the brilliant compositions of Thelonious Monk and the revolutionary philosophy of Ornette Coleman. Both are also anti-purists who revel in the amalgamation of sounds, genres and styles.
Ornette Coleman was a leading light of the “Free Jazz” movement of the 1960s releasing ground breaking albums The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959 and Free Jazz in 1960. In 1967 Coleman won the first Guggenheim Fellowship for jazz music and his “harmolodic” theory has been employed in a range of music genres ever since and with great success at the 2009 Meltdown Festival in London where he received rave reviews.
Thelonius Monk was also seen as an adventurous musician employing unconventional techniques that other musicians found difficult, but over time his compositions have become firm favourites with generations of jazz fans across the world.
The ten tracks on this album are based on some of Thelonius Monk’s “greatest hits” and it is possible that there will be Monk fans who will react adversely to their favourite tunes being given the “Free Jazz” treatment. Some tracks such as Round Midnight and In Walked Bud are enjoyable new arrangements of classic jazz tunes but others seem to be so far removed from the original as to be almost unrecognisable, the lack of rhythm typically provided by drums and bass giving free reign to Matt Lavelle’s and John Pietaro’s improvisations.
A side effect of listening to this album was the necessity to re-visit the original Monk versions of each track for comparison and noting once again what a great musician and composer Thelonius Monk was. Another side effect was discovering the Dissident Arts website which is both interesting and unusual. In particular there is information about the Dissident Arts Orchestra and projects including providing the musical accompaniment to classic silent films such as Battleship Potemkin and Metropolis and publishing on Youtube.
To be honest I do prefer the original Monk versions of these great tunes but for those interested in “Free Jazz” and an application of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic theories then this example will be well worth considering.
The full track listing is: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys; Round Midnight; Crepuscule With Nellie; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk/Straight No Chaser; Monk’s Mood; In Walked Bud. The US version of the album appears to have 2 more tracks.”
Published: January 20th, 2015
“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.]”
Published: January 13, 2015
“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.”
Published: January 11, 2015
“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. 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.”
By: DAVOR HRVOJ, soundguardian.com
Published: March 20, 2015
“The title says it all! It reminds us of two jazz musicians who have marked the genre musical with innovation and distinctive authoritative work: saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Thelonious Monk. While both early career met with incomprehension, even neglect, today they are celebrated as giants. Monk is one of the greatest composers in history of jazz, an author of a wealth of songs that have become jazz standards. His creativity is still an inspiration for new generations of jazz – and not only jazz musicians. Many of them are recorded themed albums with his compositions, among others the famous soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who was a great admirer of his work.
One of the most important representatives of free-jazz, Coleman founded his own musical concept – philosophy – which he called Harmolodics, and based it on his own composition/improvisation principles. Multi-instrumentalists Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro decided to record a theme album that honors both. The Monk’s works are processed in a manner close to Coleman harmolodics concept. The template for improvisation are found in some of Monk’s most famous songs: “Epistrophy”, “Pannonica”, “‘Round Midnight”, “Crepescule With Nellie”, “Ruby My Dear”, “Blue Monk”, “Monk’s Mood” and “In Walked Bud “, but also those less known to a wider circle of listeners, such as” Green Chimneys “and” Let’s Cool One “.
In addition to the musical setting, Lavelle, who plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet, and Pietaro, who plays the vibraphone, bodhran (Irish drum similar to the Arabic instruments related defu), congas and percussion, their approach is based on the philosophy of a grand music. For example, there is the significant Coleman’s story about his appearance at the psychiatric ward of a hospital when, looking at the audience, he could not distinguish between physicians from patients, as well as Bartok’s belief that new music has to be deeply rooted in folk music, the world’s musical heritage. All these experiences and consolidate completely in their vision of contemporary improvised music.
Although they are virtuosos who play musical instruments, that aspect is secondary. Primary is a new approach to standards, sound research, communication and interaction. The music that We would be happy to listen to some of this music at the upcoming Zagreb Biennial.”
Published: December 18, 2014
“Great album that may as well claim the title “Disc of the Year”. Technically, it refers to the category of tribute album, but it was too different from the usual work of this kind. Moreover, a double tribute here. One character of this tribute is quite obvious: his name is on the cover. Interest in the work of Thelonious Monk and his ideas over the years, as a noble wine, is gaining strength. I have never pointed out in reviews the list of songs in the album, but in this case I want to deliver fully. So, this is a program consisting of the following by the famous pianist and composer: Epistrophy; Pannonica; Green Chimneys; ‘Round Midnight; Crepuscule with Nellie; Nutty; Ruby, My Dear; Let’s Cool One; Blue Monk; Monk’s Mood, In Walked Bud – almost all of the most famous and performed of his work. And now for the second hero tribute, whose name is not immediately identify the ordinary, and to some extent the advanced fan of jazz. It is, of course, will link the term “garmolodichesky” with musical and philosophical concept of music, put forward at the time Ornette Coleman. The man, whom many consider the father of free jazz (and only this term in any case, it appeared in the title of his album), created his, frankly, somewhat confused and vague theory garmolodii (this word he combined the concept of “harmony”, “movement “and” melody “, of course, in their English sound). In a nutshell, it is based on the same principles as in the free jazz – atonality, polymodality, rhythmic freedom and so on, but also the crucial role of the individual musician in the music they created. Thus, a collection of great plays Monk performed in this project from the standpoint of theory “garmolodicheskoy” Coleman.
Well, now it’s time to move on to the creators of the project. There are two of them, so we are dealing with a difficult to execute and not always easy to grasp duo format. By the way, Monk – pianist, Coleman – a saxophonist, but you don’t hear these tools in the Harmolodic Monk album. According to the duo toolkit rather trivial. Matt Lavelle plays the cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet, and his colleague John Petaro plays the vibraphone, congas and other percussion, including an Irish drum Bowral (according to experts Gaelic word correctly transcribe it that way). Trumpeter Matt Lavelle (r.1970) was in his work through a series of metamorphoses: he began to swing, then played the mainstream, and from the end of the last century became friendly with the Downtown Music, in New York, became inveterate avant-gardist. In 2005, Matt began taking lessons from Ornette Coleman. Apparently, it was then that he was filled with garmolodicheskimi ideas, and certainly since was introduced to the arsenal of tools: alto clarinet, which showcases his sound when you play the first track Epistrophy. John Petaro is not only a musician, but also a publicist. In both guises this Brooklyn native professes the most radical views on art, and also belongs to the circle of brilliant masters of avant-garde jazz.
I will not go into details of presentation Monk music duo from the viewpoint of Coleman, and advise you not to dwell on it. It is better to just listen to the sophisticated sounding (wind + vibraphone + percussion), creative interpretation of the original, and just extremely interesting music. I can only say that the version of “Round Midnight” by duo Lavel – Petaro seemed to me one of the best ever heard before. I advise you not to miss this album!”