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“like a shout to the gods” – Michael Dougherty’s Review of Harmolodic Monk

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Matt Lavelle, John Pietaro: “Harmolodic Monk” (2015) CD Review

Harmolodic Monk, the new CD from Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro, is an interesting jazz album taking the musical philosophy and approach of Ornette Coleman and applying it to compositions by Thelonious Monk. The results are sometimes soulful, sometimes emotional. These tracks often have a loose, exploratory feel that gets a bit trippy at times, but is always interesting. They mainly stick to Monk’s most well-known material, such as “Round Midnight,” “Ruby My Dear” and “Blue Monk,” but also tackle lesser known work, such as “Pannonica” and “Green Chimneys.” And it’s worth noting that on an album of Monk compositions, there is no piano. Matt Lavelle is on cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet; John Pietaro is on vibraphone and percussion.

Harmolodic Monk opens with “Epistrophy,” which begins with a thoughtful, lonesome horn, and soon adds little touches on percussion that make me think of an alley late at night. Then it’s as if the sounds themselves gather confidence, dare to express more, becoming more sure of their surroundings. Interestingly, there is some work on the vibraphone that is almost haunting, whereas I usually associate that instrument with a happier tone. And those happier tones do exist in this piece as well. The voices of the instruments on this track aren’t always pretty, but are always expressive.

Things get a bit more wild and energetic on “Green Chimneys.” This track has a loose, celebratory feel, like a shout to the gods, with the percussion designed to send dancers into a whirling joyful madness, and the horn like a proclamation.

“Round Midnight” begins slowly, almost tentatively, with largely mellow work on the vibraphone. The horn comes in beautifully, with a gentle, romantic bluesy bent, then rising at moments to passionate, unbridled heights before the song ends softly, drifting off.

A really nice horn solo makes “Let’s Cool One” one of the highlights of the disc, with Matt Lavelle dropping hints of that main theme, then going fully into it as John Pietaro comes back in on vibraphone. “Blue Monk” is another highlight for me, for it is at times playful, with a sense of humor, but also with some great work from both musicians, particularly by Matt Lavelle. Even the pauses are interesting. Monk is of course known for working dramatic pauses into his compositions, and Lavelle and Pietaro are able to make their own effective use of that device. And toward the end there are great short bursts like joyful shouts.

Harmolodic Monk concludes with a cool take on “In Walked Bud,” with moments when they cut loose, trading solos.

CD Track List

  1. Epistrophy
  2. Pannonica
  3. Green Chimneys
  4. Round Midnight
  5. Crepescule With Nellie
  6. Ruby My Dear
  7. Let’s Cool One
  8. Blue Monk
  9. Monk’s Mood
  10. In Walked Bud


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