Picks and Pans Review: Monk Suite

UPDATED 07/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

Kronos Quartet with Ron Carter

The ripples of Thelonius Monk's genius as a composer keep expanding in contemporary music. In last year's That's the Way I Feel Now a diverse group of rock and jazz musicians showed that the late pianist's compositions could stand up to bizarre instrumentation and eclectic arrangements without losing their idiosyncratic humor and pathos. Now the Kronos Quartet, a young, polished and progressive ensemble from San Francisco, with arranger Tom Darter (editor of Keyboard), makes a similar point within the disciplined structure and closely matched timbres of a conventional string quartet. Augmented on one side by virtuoso bassist Ron Carter in a largely improvisatory role, the quartet moves briskly through Darter's ingenious charts. The result emphasizes one of the most intriguing aspects of Monk's music, the coexistence of unabashed melodic beauty with an oddly bristling and oblique sense of phrasing and harmony. The quartet mediates admirably between concert hall sonorities, which convey the gravity and foreboding of Monk's tunes, and liberal, almost hoedown fiddling that captures the composer's wry playfulness. Best of all are the slow numbers, especially Crepuscule With Nellie and Round Midnight. Strings bring a new richness to the sad, stately elegance of the former, while the latter takes on both a tragic gypsy charm and a solidity of design that have always lurked deep in Monk's music but have rarely been so firmly and lovingly revealed. (Landmark)

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