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Jams_Runt

John Beasley Presents Monkestra- Who Is This For?

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I'm mostly a lurker here, since after years of reading this forum I know I know little enough about jazz that I'll learn more by just shutting up and following the discussions, but I've been on a heavy Monk kick for over five years now, and after reading some fairly decent press for John Beasley Presents Monk'estra Vol. 1, I've got to say this album has me completely baffled.  It's kind of a smooth jazz/ show band version of Monk tunes.  I guess if you had a lot of wax build up you could kind of hear some late Gil Evans in it, but mostly it is just slick, slick, slick.  Now I understand why slick big band jazz exists, and I know Monk has a certain kind of cultural cache, and its clear from reading up on the dude John Beasley has been exploring Monk for years, but this late in the game is there really an audience for this kind of slick showy big band music being done to poor old Monk?  I mean although it is not at all my thing I get the hip-hop sheen Kamasi Washington puts on recycled Lonnie Liston Smith, but THIS to Monk, really?  Does anybody have any idea who this album is for, and does it work for them?

I don't mean to crap on anybody's passion project, but I figure this would be the place to bring it up, because I don't think I've been this confused by the existence of a particular jazz album in a longtime.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies in advance.

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Have you heard his album "Letter to Herbie"?

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I saw his band a few years ago. They weren't bad, but not that interesting, either.

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Interesting topic! I had a quick listen on Spotify and would like to have a more proper listen before making a judgement but, at this stage, i'm on the fence!  Need to listen some more. Monk covers and what makes a good or a bad one is an interesting topic in general...

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I started playing the John Beasley Monkestra CD and was rather unimpressed. As soon as I heard a little bit of his dreadful smooth jazz treatment of "'Round Midnight," I promptly removed it from my CD player and trashed it. In my view it was one of the worst new releases of 2016 and not worthy of a Grammy nomination. I prefer George Russell's arrangement of "'Round Midnight" showcasing Eric Dolphy or any other worthwhile arrangements of this jazz standard that have been released over the years.

 

 

 

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I totally agree about Russell's take on Monk, but from the little evidence we have Dolphy really got Monk on a special level. 

I have not listened to Beasley's tribute to Hancock.  Is it any better?  I can see how his general approach would be, um, less offensive applied to Hancock than Monk, but nothing about Monkestra makes me particularly interested in checking out more of his work.  To my ears it sounds like he simply doesn't understand what makes the source material compelling at least as far as Monk is concerned. 

This isn't a new thought, but I think Monk is a strange case when it comes to others playing his tunes.  While anyone playing Monk will probably want to put their own spin on it, Monk inhabits his own world as far as harmony and timing is concerned.  When you start substituting Monk's approach for more "hip" chords Monk begins to disappear.  The same thing happens with the timing.  Marcus Roberts did a solo piano version of "Blue Monk" on one of his early solo albums, I forget the name, but it is the one that had Rouse on it, and Roberts plays the "wrong notes" correctly, but by keeping the tempo straight, without those weird but perfectly timed pauses Monk was prone to in his solo performances, it just sounds like stride, which is fine, but really lets you see what Monk brought to the game as a performer.

I'm not saying that people have to play Monk exactly like Monk did, after all I'm not even sure Monk would have liked what Dolphy did to his music, but I do think that at the very least you have to understand why Monk did what he did before you start messing with it.  Which is why this Beasley album confuses me so much.  By all accounts Beasley has spent a long time with Monk's music, and yet you drop almost any track off of this album on one of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band albums and it wouldn't sound out of place at all.  Which brings me back to my original question, who listens to Gordon Goodwin and goes "I wonder what that cat could do with "Epistrophy"?

 

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2 hours ago, Jams_Runt said:

 Which brings me back to my original question, who listens to Gordon Goodwin and goes "I wonder what that cat could do with "Epistrophy"?

 

John Beasley, apparently.

I have no idea who he is, and have sorta run screaming from the radio when that Gordon Goodwin comes on, but if the question is a simple "who would make this, and who would listen to it", my objective response is simply that all kinds of people like all kinds of things. Ours is not to reason why, ours is just to buy, according to what we like, or think we might. You can't undo what somebody else does, you can only make your own impact.

And yeah, people fuck up Monk far more often than not, in some form or fashion. People back in the day used to talk about how "difficult" his music was, and at first I think it just meant that the forms and intervals and changes were not exactly conventional (at least not in jazzworld). Now that everybody's had a chance to get all that down, they still fuck it up, because, as you say, Monk is not just about notes, Monk is about time, not just "rhythm" time, but TIME, like physics time. Time/Space/Shape/Dimension. And most people don't see how that matters all that much. Those are the ones who fuck it up, but the ones who DO get that, they are the ones who don't.

People who fuck shit up and appeal to other people who don't get it...there they are. There they are. You can't get around it, they're always there, always have been, always will be, so don't event try. Just move to a world where they aren't and build on that as much as possible. Because if you wait for wrong to turn into right, you gonna be waiting longer than anybody has time to wait. There ain't that much time, even if you put it all together, there still ain't that much time.

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Beasley's interpretations were devoid of the emotion, dissonance, anguish or playfulness that Monk incorporated into his music. I think only one of the senior DB writers really trashed the CD. 

 

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This piqued my interest enough to listen to a couple of tunes on Youtube (Round Midnight and Ask Me Now).

I actually quite liked it, you can still tell they're Monk tunes. I'll listen to some more.

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1 hour ago, rdavenport said:

This piqued my interest enough to listen to a couple of tunes on Youtube (Round Midnight and Ask Me Now).

I actually quite liked it, you can still tell they're Monk tunes. I'll listen to some more.

That's a good idea!

I dunno, this is really good writing from a writing standpoint (and as such, I gotta give full props), but I gotta go with the OP - why? You could do that with/to any song and it might actually be an "improvement", or at least an "examination". This, to me, is a diminishment of Monk's composition,. it comes out different, yes, but it's like a haircut of one shape on a bad head of another. Not the barber's fault, not the head's fault, just...not everything comes out good just because it's all good going in, right?

Now this one kinda pisses me off, actually...go do that with somebody else, ok?

And this brings to mind - if you got so many ideas, why not write your own music? Because there's no market, because "Monk" will get you more sales? Becuase you love Monk so much?

This is some California shit, right? It reminds me of what Lab Bands did with "hip jazz tunes" (when they did that at all), they don't look for what makes the music unique, they look for what they can make it look like them so they can in turn think that they can prove that they look like it.

Gonna stop now, because although personally I find that esthetic repugnantly predatory, I also realize that in music, people got a right to do what they do and be who they be, no matter what, and in the end, all I can say is "none for me, thanks". I'm sure what it means to them and how it sounds to me don't even connect, so...move on.

 

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Hey, if people dig it more power to them, amazon reviewers, forum members, grammy voters etc... but as per usual it seems like Jim gets to the bottom of it for me.  This is indeed some California shit.  And sure, Monk's name sells, but Davis or Hancock would probably sell better.  Just be glad you didn't post 'Round Midnight.

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After reading Jim's post I'm morbidly curious :ph34r:

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It sounds like the guy took later-period Gil Evans as an inspiration for his scoring style, and that's more than ok by me. But then it also sounds like he gets his idea of pocket from...someplace different, that's all I feel like saying right now. And you know, pocket matters. Colors matter too, but pocket determines shape, and colors alone do not have a shape, they're light waves, right? Or in this case, sound waves. Either way, left alone, they have no shape until one is imposed on them. So yeah, pocket. And this pocket here, it sounds "funny" enough to me by itself, never mind it being imposed on Monkmusic.

Truthfully, I think Lyle Mays "invented" this type of writing oLab 75...I called it "sneaker music" then, because I was there while that music was being made, and everybody wore sneakers, it was in no way dishonest or inappropriate, and to this day, I can enjoy an occasional listening to Lab 75. Lyle Mays wrote some really personal music for Big Band, very much of its time, place, and people. These were his sneakers made manifest, they became manifest as his and ours, and we all wore our own sneakers on our own feet.

I will not say that John Beasley is not writing charts that are not of his time, place, and people, I'm just saying that if he's looking to create or discover or otherwise call attention to his time , place, and people with the music of Monk, he's not doing it in anyway that I can either discern or appreciate. That shit just sounds wrong, not the colors, but the shapes.

Now, we all know that all kinds of shapes can fit together in all kinds of ways, but we also all know the old maxim of if it don't fit, don't force, the unspoken corollary of that being that forcing things into a fit - as opposed to letting the fit develop by a natural stretching,  is not a fit at all, but rather an act of aggression, violence or some other predatory psychology at work. And when I hear this, and then when I see that guy in front of the band doing that weird pelvic wiggle,, A) no wonder that pocket ends up where it does, and B) don't do that to Monk, please. Monk was a dancer, not a humping Fabulous Furry Freak Brother.

Wear your own damn sneakers, that's all.

 

 

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Jams_runt, the Hancock disc he did is excellent, no skimping on serious straight ahead playing for lack of a better term, and his "Positootly" is nice as well.  The Gordon Goodwin Big Band, I heard them once, did nothing for me.  For that kind of glossy LA thing, the Bob Mintzer LA Big Band does it way better.

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CJ, I may check it out if I ever stumble upon it.  And seriously I think this backwards post-late Gil Evans thing would work much better with Hancock than Monk, and having said that, the Hancock disc looks like its a different thing completely.  Though, after hearing Monkestra, its going to have to be cheap to get me to check it out, because oof!  

Oddly enough I checked Monkestra out after the grammy nod because some of the press talked about Monk for the 21st Century, but to my ears a lot of jazz in the 21st century just plain hasn't caught up with all of the implications of Monk.  And then I hear the thing, and yeah, okay, that is 21st century jazz, but it is of such a specific and narrow time and place that it just doesn't feel like it really adds anything to the discussion other than LA Big Bands be LA Big Bands. 

I have now written way more about this album than I have albums I truly, deeply love.  I'm off to listen to 5 by Monk by 5.

 

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42 minutes ago, Jams_Runt said:

And then I hear the thing, and yeah, okay, that is 21st century jazz, but it is of such a specific and narrow time and place that it just doesn't feel like it really adds anything to the discussion other than LA Big Bands be LA Big Bands. 

I hate to accept generalities as fact, but I can't think of anything offhand that contradicts this as far as today goes.

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