STATUSSPHERE / MONK: Work. Crepuscule With Nellie (2 tks). Ruby My Dear. Let’s Call This. Pannonica. Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-lues Are. FORRESTER: Mock Time. Requiem for Aunt Honey. About Françoise. Don’t Ask Me Now. The Comeback / Vito Dieterle, t-sax; Joel Forrester, pno / Ride Symbol RID-CD-25
Young tenor saxist Vito Dieterle teams up here with veteran pianist Joel Forrester in a program of mostly Thelonious Monk tunes, with four Forrester originals interspersed among them. One interesting aspect of this album is that there is no rhythm section; another is that they actually improvise on Crepuscule With Nellie, a piece that Monk wrote to be performed straight with no improvisation.
Their decision to play so much Monk stems from the fact that Forrester feels that Dieterle sounds a lot like Charlie Rouse, who played tenor with Monk himself for 11 years (1959-69). I concur with his feeling, and in fact I’d love to hear Dieterle play with a pianist whose style is even closer to Monk than that of Forrester, who understands the chord sequences but whose playing is considerably smoother, less rhythmically angular than Monk’s own.
Which isn’t to say that Forrester is uninteresting; on the contrary, his solo on the opener, Work, shows that he does indeed understand Monk’s use of chromatics as well as anyone. It’s just that Monk’s angular, Stravinsky-like rhythms only come through occasionally in his playing, though listener less familiar with Monk himself will thoroughly enjoy what Forrester does here.
The duo places the two takes of Crepuscule With Nellie at opposite ends of this disc, the first coming on track 2 and the second as track 12, concluding the album. Nor do they rush through the piece, each take lasting almost seven and a half minutes, although the first minute and 50 seconds of each track presents the theme played straight. Forrester’s smoother piano style combines blues elements with a sort of George Shearing-like elegance, an unusual combination, yet it is Dieterle who really breaks through the written composition to come up with something both unique and exquisite. He is not a saxist who wastes notes in his solos; every note is there for a reason, and in the end I actually found his approach not too dissimilar from that of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who created whole choruses of integrated material out of thin air. From this standpoint, I found Forrester to be very good in a somewhat conventional way but Dieterle to be more continuously fascinating because of this uncanny ability of his.
The third track is Forrester’s Mock Time, a tune that sounds much more like a swing piece than something that Thelonious would have written—yet it’s attractive, and during Dieterle’s first solo Forrester plays a modified boogie beat which I found quite delightful. Later on, they trade fours in a nice chase chorus, with Dieterle listening to Forrester and building on what he has just played. Ruby My Dear goes at a nice, relaxed pace, with Dieterle limning the melody gracefully before the duo plunges into improvisations. This isn’t one of my favorite Monk tunes, however. Requiem for Aunt Honey is a slow piece, opening with an a cappella cadenza by the saxist. The melody is lyrical and attractive, and they play it very well. It ends in the middle of a phrase.
The duo also does a very nice job on Let’s Call This, with its angular melody and juxtaposed harmonies, with Dieterle nicely dovetailing his improvisation with Forrester’s piano. Unfortunately, About Françoise is a fairly dirge-like ballad. I was not terribly impressed.
Happily, they present a very nice, imaginative rendition of Pannonica, a tune dedicated to the one and only hip member of the Rothschild family, the “Jazz Baroness.” Though a slow piece, its unusual melodic and harmonic construction make it a wonderful tune to improvise on. Both players are at their best in this one. Dieterle tosses in some double-time phrases, and again constructs his solo logically while Forrester is a bit more ruminative. This is followed by another gem, Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-Lues Are, and Dieterle takes full advantage of this one to create one of his best solos on the record. Forrester also comes up with some nifty ideas as well.
Forrester’s original, Don’t Ask Me Now, is a clever play on the Monk tune title Ask Me Now, though the music is more boppish than the usual Monk piece. It has a nice structure, however, and both musicians really listen to each other when exchanging solos. The Comeback is also a nice tune with an attractive lead line, with Forrester playing a nice walking bass behind Dieterle’s solo and his own comping. It also has a nice feeling of swing that makes it an attractive closer.
Ah, but we’re not done quite yet. There is one more track, the alternate version of Crepuscule, and here the solos are rather different—in Dieterle’s case, I think even more imaginative than the first take, his playing more angular in many places.
All in all, then, a very interesting CD, recommended for both participants but particularly for Dieterle.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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