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Microscopic Septet - Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk
“Although the reunited eighties downtown mainstay the Microscopic Septet features two exceptionally individualistic composers (and superb improvisors) in the pianist Joel Forrester and the soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston, its latest album “Friday The 13th,” is devoted to the music of Thelonious Monk; it is a glorious fit.” -
The New Yorker.
"Always in balance between affection and irony, they have been able to pay homage to the tradition without losing their ability to renew it, even in a dramatic way. This successful CD is one of the best tributes ever paid to Monk." –
"Just about the time you ask yourself, “What else can be done with a Monk tune?” The Microscopic Septet comes in to blow you away. Fueled by inventive arrangements by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester (with one by Bob Montalto), the Micros twist and turn through the Thelonious Monk songbook with a spirit of ambitious grace, super-sized energy and flat-out fun." –
Since its founding in 1980, under the co-leadership and co-compositional duties of soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, "the Micros" have been "New York's most famous unknown band"; since 1990, the catchy, film noir theme they created for NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” has aired daily on stations across America, and may now be the most-broadcast jazz tune in the world.
Composer and pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-82) is one of the top creative deities in the pantheon of American Jazz Greats. His tunes, once considered radical and appreciated only by the cognoscenti, are now beloved standards. The music of Monk was also the catalyst that sparked the creation of one of New York’s most legendary and important jazz groups, the Microscopic Septet.
In 1974, the Monk tune: "Well You Needn’t" first brought the future Micros co-leaders together by chance. Johnston was living in the Bowery at the time, and Forrester, hearing music, barged into his apartment, unannounced: "I was playing a Thelonious Monk tune, and a guy I had never seen before came walking through my door, which wasn’t locked - those were the hippie days..." The encounter sparked a friendship and working relationship, in which Monk’s music reverberated on multiple levels across the years. Another chance encounter – at chicken and ribs place West Boondock, forged Forrester’s friendship with the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. And through the Baroness, Forrester would ultimately meet and periodically play piano for Monk.
Since Johnston and Forrester’s first meeting, Monk’s music has remained an inspiration and guiding light throughout their music careers. In addition to creating and playing their own music, they always played Monk’s music with the Microscopic Septet, but due to their limited number of releases and their copious original songbook (more than 180 tunes), they only previously recorded one Monk composition. This new CD rectifies this omission. Featuring original arrangements of 12 Monk tunes, half from “back in the day” and half newly-written for this recording, the Microscopic Septet make clear their line of descent from Monk. Bottom line: there are many Thelonious Monk-themed discs, but this is the most personalized take on Thelonious Monk there is. It's obviously Monk, but at every moment it's also very obviously the Microscopic Septet! The humor and angularity of Monk’s compositions mesh easily and joyfully with the elaboration and juxtaposition of the Micros-style arranging. This is a true celebration of Monk by a group that can arguably be called his most sensitive and sensational heirs.
Featuring gorgeous art work by New Yorker artist Barry Blitt – the man responsible for the infamous and controversial "Michelle and Barack 'fist-bump'" cover and other contentious-yet-humorous artwork- and liner notes by jazz critic and long-time Micros fan Peter Keepnews, Friday the 13th is surprising yet inevitable: a long overdue party with the master, at which The Micros Play Monk.
You can hear a track from the album here
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