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.