You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

VARIOUS ARTISTS "That's the Way I Feel Now" A Tribute to Thelonious Monk

A&M SP 96600 (1984)

Ah, the tribute album. Anyone who regularly visited record stores during the late eighties to mid-nineties has seen more than their fair share of these. Basically a collection of cover versions of a single performer's or band's songs, the tribute album treatment has been given to everyone from the Beatles and Pink Floyd to Sonny Bono and Ace Frehley. A massive number of tribute albums remain in print to this day, nearly enough to form a genre of their own. The credit (or blame) for this can probably be laid at the feet of producer Hal Willner. In 1981, the former Saturday Night Live bandleader produced Amarcord Nina Rota, an album of Nina Rota's music (originally written for the films of Federico Fellini) interpreted by jazzers like Bill Frisell, Carla Bley, and Wynton Marsalis. Many consider that album to be the first modern tribute album, and several more from Willner would follow, with subjects such as Kurt Weill, Charles Mingus, and jazz piano genius Thelonious Sphere Monk.

This double LP features a wide array of artists in a variety of combinations, from the solo saxophone of Monk disciple Steve Lacy on "Gallop's Gallop" to the sixteen-piece orchestra on Joe Jackson's version of "'Round Midnight". Randy Weston and Dr.John bring their signature pianistics to, respectively, "Functional" and "Blue Monk", while Mark Bingham, Brenden Harkein and John Scofield mount a triple-guitar attack on "Brilliant Corners" and "Jackie-ing". John Zorn contributes a predictably loony reading of "Shuffle Boil" (complete with duck calls) while vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Bob Dorough team up on a quietly swinging "Friday the Thirteenth". A number of non-jazzers get in on the action, too; Todd Rundgren plays a jaunty, synthesized rendition of "Four in One" and NRBQ rock out on "Little Rootie Tootie". Shockabilly play a spooky, distorted version of "Criss Cross", and guitarists Chris Spedding and Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) turn in a surprisingly catchy and effective "Work".

The best tribute albums are the ones that show us the durability of an artist's work; the ability of a performer's work to be adapted to a number of different styles and genres proves just how versatile that performer is. The music on That's the Way shows us the universality of Monk's artistry (not to mention Hal Willner's), and that's what makes it a fitting tribute to a worthy genius.


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