Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Loss in October

The fall season, and specifically October, used to be my favorite time of the year, bar none. Part of it related to my birthday coming in October, but there was always a sense of renewal closely linked to this time of the year: new school year, new apartments, a sense of adventure that came with it. Plus the October temperatures have a certain romanticism to me. These days if I drive to my mom's house on a Friday in the late afternoon, it takes me back to the days of have a paper route and "going collecting" (getting my customers to pay for the week's paper) and going on some adventure that night.

But as time goes on, the fall season has become synonymous with loss and tragedy. InPittsburgh, the first alt-weekly paper where I worked on staff, was bought out and shut down at the end of September 2001. My position at Whole Foods was eliminated right around the same time in 2005. (I'm back there again, so things come around, but it was a hard couple of years, mentally, in between.) 

Thanks to good old Facebook memories, I was reminded that, in October 2014, I had a seriously bad asthma attack that led to a trip to emergency room - which I got to by hopping on the bus down the street from my house. That had a happy ending too, in a way, but the night it happened, I was worried that my continual huffs off of old albuterol inhalers might result in a heart attack. Thankfully I was well enough to walk home from the hospital that night, which was a far cry from the trip there, when I could barely walk the block from the bus stop to the ER without stopping to catch my breath.

I'm okay. And this really isn't about me. It's about the people around us. 

Again the memories reminded me that six years ago today, Pittsburgh musician Erin Hutter died mysteriously. I had seen her play numerous times with punks-turned-genuine-country-blues players the Deliberate Strangers and we even played together briefly in the band Boxstep. While we were never extremely close, we were always happy to see each other when we crossed paths, usually at a show or a watering hole (or both). She usually had a story about teaching or some music she had heard. It had been awhile since I had seen her and knowing that she was really gone hit sort of hard. Especially because at the time I was dealing with my dad's stint in the hospital which would drag on until he passed in mid-November. 

But everyone in Pittsburgh with a heart knows that today is the second anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. It's an atrocity that is still hard to come to terms with. You think that hate at that kind of level is something that went away with World War II but tragically, it isn't. And that's what makes it so horrible. So horrible that I feel like me sitting here typing about it doesn't do anyone any good. It feels self-serving.

Then I think about how Squirrel Hill is near where I grew up. Even though our house was over a mile away from Tree of Life, I feel a community connection. Until I started typing, I forgot that my personal doctor's partner - Jerry Rabinowitz - was one of the people killed that day. When I finally saw my doctor a few months later and offered my condolences, he stopped me before I got it all out, thanking me and brushing it off. It made me realize that it's probably on his mind constantly. Everywhere he looks, he sees remnants of his colleague. That kind of feeling could send you into a tailspin and want to retreat from society, yet here he is still practicing and seeing patients. Maybe that also helps him through.

The day before the shooting, I had a band practice for a show with a pickup band that was playing REM songs at a night of tributes called "Smothered and Covered." Our singer, Justin, had just flown into town and was practicing with the three of us for the first time. (We had been working up the set for about a month.) Because of my work schedule, we could only practice in the late morning/early afternoon before I had to take off for work. Thankfully, the guys obliged and they rocked, first thing after waking up.

Between songs, our drummer Joe left the room to take a call. When he came back he told us that Jesse Flati, half the local band the Lopez with his wife Steph, had suffered a heart attack and died. He was only 40. Joe was close to Jesse's friends and asked us to keep it under our hats because it had happened so recently. Naturally, we agreed.

Jesse and I played on a bill together several years earlier, but we had just spoken for an interview a few months before he died. (The conversation worked into an article in the first issue of Pittsburgh Current.) I knew Steph a little better than I knew Jesse but he was the kind of guy that you warmed up to right away. There were several things he said in describing music that have stuck with me since that conversation. 

It was hard enough going to the Smothered and Covered show the next night knowing the sad news about Jesse, but feelings were magnified 1000% after Tree of Life. What do you do? It was hard for me because that night was the first time I was to go on stage since the previous February. I had no band though I was trying desperately to get one together. I wanted to play but wondered if I should be doing something else.

One thing that helped came when Benefits played a set as the Cure. Mike Baltzer, who organized the show and put me together with the REM guys was all done up like Robert Smith with the delivery to match. He introduced a song by saying words to the effect of, "Find the person close to you [maybe he said on your right side or left ide] and give them a hug. Whether you know them or not." Then they played "Close To Me." I hugged a dude in a baseball cap that I didn't know and my friend Greg (who had also played in Boxstep with me and Erin Hutter). It might have been more of a bro-hug and yeah, me and the guy I didn't know were a little awkward but it helped. Because it brought us all together. 

I think us REM guys played after them, but I can't say for sure. Which is funny because I usually remember this stuff. We did have a good set. Although I do recall that part of "It's The End of The World As We Know It" got a little botched up. 

But there were more important things to remember that night. Like being close to people, complete strangers even, and knowing that sometimes music and those hugs can help in times of need and make you realize that there is still some brightness to October. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

CD Review: Dan Weiss Starebaby - Natural Selection


Dan Weiss Starebaby
Natural Selection

On a bill stacked with innovative players, Dan Weiss' Starebaby quintet nearly stole the show  at Brooklyn's Sultan Room during last January's Winter Jazz Fest . The music was heavy, loud and full of ever-shifting time signature quick cuts, but it never felt bombastic or flashy. Coming shortly after the death of Neal Peart, Weiss' technique as a drummer and composer were on full display, making him a good candidate for the next generation to emulate, much as he did for the Rush drummer.

Most, if not all, of their set drew on the material that appears on their new album. Natural Selection consists of a series of tulpas, "beings that are created through spiritual or mental powers that take on similar forms as the original," according to Weiss. With inspiration coming from David Lynch's Twin Peaks series and a love of heavy rock, "Episode 18" comes out of the gate shredding, with Ben Monder's guitar in the front, sounding like every metal dude's ideal. The track alternates between these taut moments and slow atmospheric breaks. When Monder takes a solo towards the end, he sounds less like a metal player than a prog master, laying down sustained, rich tones rather than some fast pyrotechnics. Trevor Dunn kicks on the fuzz to dirty up his bass, which blends well with the dual keyboards of Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn. Two seconds shy of 13 minutes, "Episode 18" doesn't waste any of that time, expertly splitting weight and ambiance.

Progressive rock is nowhere near as repetitive as pop music, but there's a certain strain of repetition that can come up with the music. A certain form gets repeated, which is good for the listener because it makes a choppy rhythm more familiar as it proceeds, usually continuing to add more sonic dimension as it goes. King Crimson did something like this on the Red album on the title track and in "Starless," but honestly the idea of repetition plus increased dynamics goes back at least as far as Stan Kenton. 

I'm going off on this tangent because Weiss writes this way throughout Natural Selection. It happens during "Episode 18," where it adds to the phantasmagoria of the music. "A Taste of Memory," however, has almost half of its 14 minutes devoted to a piano motif. After an opening, where Monder gets a great fuzz sound like he's playing through a blown speaker, things break down to a piano part. As it repeats, the rest of the band joins in, slowly building it up, but it never leads to anything further, just the end.

"Today Is Wednesday Tomorrow?" feels like six minutes of an intro. Weiss even adds some tablas and like many tracks, it features acoustic piano (though it's hard to tell Taborn from Mitchell; and Weiss also gets a piano credit!). But once everyone is playing, the piece is over without much climax.

Starebaby brings back the energy of the Sultan Room on the album's last two tracks. "Accina" begins with a rolling rubato, again lead by piano, before slamming into a heavy riff, which the crew continually revisits through these 15 minutes. In between, Monder plays another solo that's sounds just a bit off-mike, which means his tone drapes the rest of the band as he plays. The pianos go off into a section that keeps threatening to go back to a walking straight 4, but never does. After returning to the song's main riff (following a few open seconds of tense silence each time), Weiss tricks listeners with this ending by splitting instead of going back to it.

"Head Wreck," though not quite as lengthy, has plenty of the same strong elements:  power chords. keyboard breaks, plus atonal banging that could be keys or guitar plonks. Not only that, it ends with the closest thing to a drum solo, which either means Weiss overdubbed some extra cymbal crashes or he played like a four-handed drummer, rolling on his kit while unleashing said crashes. Either way, it's a solid closing statement. 

One thing that's clear throughout Natural Selection is how tight Starebaby sounds. The album was made following a tour, so the music was deeply ingrained by then. All eight tracks have some moments that feel electrifying and their atmospheric moments sound pretty eerie and evocative. But the band is best when they're rocking out, keeping it heavy and fleet at the same time. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Catching Up on Free Improvisation Albums on OutNow Recordings, Gauci Music and ESP-Disk'

Sometimes I wonder if this blog could serve as place that helps to spread the word about about free improvisation music, the radical kind that pushes the limits sonically. There very likely are bigger, more established, more consistant blogs out there that do a more extensive job of covering this noisy stuff. But it would cool to play some part in it: turning someone on to a musician or label, giving the player some more attention, having a couple CDs exchange hands, providing some encouragement to keep going. 

I'm not fishing for effusive comments here. (If you're so inclined, I'll take them, but I'm not hoping to get the equivalent of a bunch of "We LUVVVV you" messages like you see on FB anytime someone is down in the dumps.) The reason I bring this up is because sometimes I get a stack of CDs from independent musicians or label reps and I want to do my part to help spread the word about their efforts. That's really what I started blogging in the first place. I had more to write about than outlets for it. Having put out independent releases myself that got little or no press (except for the first one), I could relate too. 

One of the things about a forum like this is you don't have to worry about timeliness. It's cool when you're one of the first to write about a release, but if there's something that's been out for a while and you really like it, don't worry about the lag. An album can always use a bit of praise a few months down the line (though publicist might disagree).  I might be saying all this to myself to rationalize this post, but it's working so I shouldn't stop now. 

With all that, I give you three albums of frenzied free improvisation, two of which aren't new but are worthy of a belated perusal.

Tyshawn Sorey/Nadav Remez/Antonin Tri Hoang

OutNow Recordings is a label run by saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer, out of Brooklyn. A number of their albums have been reviewed on this blog, and can be found here. The label has released a lot of free blowing groups, often with Kretzmer's strong tenor as a featured soloist. His 2 Bass Quartet has done some strong work but there are others.

ELK3 arrived amongst a batch of new ones during the summer of 2019 and sat on my desk, calling to me. It comes from a 2014 performance by Tyshawn Sorey (drums, piano), Nadav Remez (guitar) and Antonin Tri Hoang (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The album bands a continuous 39-minute performance into nine tracks, with breaks usually coming with a change in dynamics or sounds. The trio begins at a high intensity level, with Hoang bleating a single note over Sorey's spastic drums and Remez's guitar skronk that gradually blends together with the horn. 

The group never lets an idea get worn out and clearly responds to one another as things develop. In "Wapiti," Remez plays a cascading guitar line that sounds like the intro to Television's "Friction" but before long he builds some feedback in duet with Hoang's wailing alto. Sorey's use of open space in his own compositions plays out here too, allowing things to gently transition between movements. When he switches to piano during the last third of the set, he utilizes prepared effects for a percussive attack, with Hoang's bass clarinet latching on to it. Remez frequently plays with a bright twang, like the spirit of a surf guitarist is trying to overpower his instrument.

The trio exemplifies everything that makes free improvisation fun - strong interaction, equal amounts of frenzy and calm, exploration of all sonic possibilities. No wonder the audience waited a full 30 seconds after things died down before roaring theie approval.

Sean Conly/Michaël Attias/Tom Rainey
Live at the Bushwick Series
(Gauci Music) gauchimusic.com or on Bandcamp

Assuming that someday we will return to some normal state where it will be safe to visit a small performance space to see a band, I hope the Bushwick Public House in Brooklyn will still be thriving. Every Monday night saxophonist Stephen Gauci hosts about five or six bands (no lie) who each blow a short but usually sweet set of free music. 

Back in January I visited the Public House to check out one such night. At first I had trouble finding the entrance to the basement/lower level room where Gauci and his friends set up. It was as DIY as DIY comes but it was fun too. (Some details can be found here.) 

In addition to chronicling every week online, Gauci has also released several CDs of performances from the Bushwick series, as well as some studio sessions by some regulars. (A review of some earlier ones can be found here.)  Among the last batch that arrived on my desk before I saw the event live, the trio of Sean Conly (bass), Michaël Attias (alto saxophone) and Tom Rainey (drums) was one that hit the CD player and intrigued me. 

It captures the trio's set from a January 2019 performance, beginning like a composition where Conly embarks on a melodic line and Attias joins him in a countermelody. Unlike the ELK3 group, this trio sets out to take ideas and expand on them and seeing what kind of potential they have. The final piece of their set (banded together in track two, which is labeled "Improvisation 2" on your CD player) climaxes with the band going into a heavy 4/4 groove. Don't say that these guys can't swing.

Owl Xounds Exploding Galaxy
The Coalescence

Bassist Gene Janas and drummer Adam Kriney first starting performing under the name Owl Xounds in the early 2000s, producing a series of small run releases (cassettes, CDrs) and garnering a name for themselves among New York free fans. Janas is something of a veteran free player, having come up in the '60s, eventually playing with guitarist Bern Nix and trumpeter Dewey Johnson in the Sedition Ensemble. Kriney came to New York a bit later but proved an apt foil for Janas.

The addition of "Exploding Galaxy" to the Owl Xounds moniker has been likened to Sun Ra's frequent augmentation of his Arkestra name with addition syllables. In addition to words, the duo is also joined by second bassist Shayna Dulberger and saxophonist Mario Rechtern in a 2007 session which yielded a previous album, Splintered Visions on Blackest Rainbow Records.

Compared to the two above albums, The Coalescence is the most frenzied of the three. (It's also the shortest, clocking in at exactly 30 minutes, with three tracks.) There is a moment on "Aghast at Last" where one of the bassists attempts to lay down something of a two-note line, but that's clearly an exception. Kriney plays explosively from starts to finish, moving across his whole kit in a multi-directional Rashied Ali kind of way, slowing down only in the final moments with some cymbal crashes serving as final proclamations. He serves as the element to follow, holding things together in a way. Rechtern moves in and out of the music, usually beginning in a flurry of rabid notes on alto or soprano. It's only when he steps back that it becomes easier to discern that two basses are playing, with one usually plucking and the other bowing, often rattling it on the strings or scraping viciously.

On the first couple listens, the music just sounds chaotic; four people playing at the same time, though not necessarily together. But listening on earbuds brings out the subtleties of the music. Kriney's performance keeps the music flowing with a high level of energy. Before "Distillation" suddenly stops, Rechtern trades his wild tone for a sound closer to a swing player, with a plucky tone. He plays some unidentifiable instrument at the end of "Cavernous Ode" that might be an electronic reed instrument. The reverb on that track also plays up the divergent sounds of the two bassists. If you can't see this group live, block out everything else and give a close listen, imagining what it would look like in a live setting.

ESP originally released The Coalescence as an extremely limited edition LP. That's sold out but CDs and digital copies can be found on the label's Bandcamp page or website. 

Gauci continues to post music from previous Bushwick Public House shows on youtube, linking them on his FB page. There's even another set by Conly, Attias & Rainey on youtube. Pretty much all of the albums can be found on the Bandcamp page linked above.

The OutNow discography also seems to be up on Bandcamp now as well. 

Go find them. Tell them I sent you.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

CD Review: Fumi Tomita - Celebrating Bird / A Tribute To Charlie Parker & The Claire Daly Band - Rah! Rah!

Ah, the jazz tribute album. A way to ensure that a musician's debt to the forefathers will be acknowledged, while at the same time, giving a player an extra boost of attention via association with said the masters. 

Cynicism aside, it's hard to blame a musician for going down this path. It's hard to get one's name out there, to a level where us jaded critics will say, "Oh! A new album by them. Better put that at the top of the pile." (I know they're not player for just for us, really.) Like everything, it's all in how the music is performed. Lean too close to the original and what's the point? Transpose it into a different setting and it feels like a (musical) fish out of water. Besides, after playing your own music, it can be fun to do someone's tunes, so why not give it a shot?

Fumi Tomita featuring David Detweiler
Celebrating Bird/A Tribute to Charlie Parker

August 29 marked the centennial of Charlie Parker's birth, which has been on everyone's radar since January. Bassist Fumi Tomita celebrates the occasion by doing something that Parker himself did in his prime: appropriating the chord changes of some tunes - in this case written by Bird - and using them as the canvas for new melodies. These are a little more grounded in tradition than Rudresh Mahanthappa's bold Bird Calls but it's still a good way of paying tribute and putting your ideas out there simultaneously. Not all them are obvious and neither aren't drawn just from Parker's signature works. I'm still not sure of the origin of "Waltz Of the Moon," but Art Hirahara leaps into the upbeat ballad, left-hand chords inspiring his right hand, so by then the source is secondary.

Writing credits are split evenly between Tomita and tenor saxophonist David Detweiler. The bassist enjoys playing the melody lines with the tenor, which he does in the two blues, "Oceanology" and "Alice Changes" (the latter an easy source giveaway for Bird fans). "Like Sigmund," a contrafact of "Segment," has a cool minor slink to it, that leads right into a bass solo that's heavy on melody with a good use of space. When Detweiler gets his solo time in this track, he adopts a smoky tone that makes sure he stands out after Tomita and Hirahara. 

Along with "Waltz," the saxophonist also recasts Neal Hefti's "Repetition" with a mid-tempo Latin groove, eating up the changes and rising above a performance by the rhythm section that feels a bit placid. Tomita's performance on the whole album never lets listeners forget who's leading the session, but his instrument could have been a little more present in the mix. The same goes for drummer Jimmy Macbride. He finally gets the spotlight in the closing "Bird Dreams" but he support work sits a little far in the background when a little push forward could have added some extra bite. Still it's good to hear a group think outside the box when it comes to Charlie Parker. 

The Claire Daly Band
Rah! Rah!

Bird isn't the only one who would have celebrated a milestone birthday this year. Had he lived, Rahsaan Roland Kirk would have marked 75 trips around the sun. Baritone saxophonist/flutist Claire Daly sees it as a good reason to celebrates the eccentric musician's life. 

Kirk's ability to play two or three saxophones at once, sing while blowing the flute, and other flamboyant tricks sometimes distracted audiences from the amazing technique and encyclopedic musical knowledge that he possessed. (Or at least that has been written about him in retrospect. Modern liner notes go out at length about Kirk being misunderstood but it seems like dispatches at the time had an appreciation for Kirk's talent.) Rather than attempt to recreate his instrumentation, Daly sticks to one horn and a flute, preferring to salute his compositions.

She opens with her own "Blue Lady" which reworks Kirk's "Lady's Blues." It's a languid opener, with a straightforward swing that evokes a Count Basie groove. On flute, she transforms "Bright Moments" into "Momentus Brighticus," a solid waltz driven by bassist Dave Hofstra's steady groove. Daly puts her spin on the original's call-and-response toward the end but the group seems to approach it cautiously when a little reckless abandon would have been in order. 

Among the Kirk originals, she comes close to singing into the flute on "Serenade to Cuckoo" but just for a second, preferring to develop a melodic solo. "Volunteered Slavery" was originally a semi-gospel/soul tune with a vocal that went into a full band groove, borrowing a melody from the Beatles (the same group Kirk would decry a few years later for coming into the US and "taking all the bread," but that's another story). Daly and the band dig into the song's boogaloo potential and her baritone cuts loose here. But instead of going into a rave-up, they detour into a version of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," with the saxophonist singing a chorus. The group could have really dug harder into the song's one-chord vamp but again they hold back. Daly hasn't a decent of pipes, but her take on "Alfie," later in the album, puts them to better use. 

Yet the group kicks up some fire in other places. Frank Foster's "Simone" and Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice" both feature some meaty baritone work, with pianist Eli Yamin providing good contrast with Daly. "Funk Underneath" (originally a lowdown blues recorded with Jack McDuff) and "Theme for the Eulipions" (from his later period) are two deeper Kirk cuts that give Daly a little more time to show some grit on flute and baritone, respectively.  By closing with "I'll Be Seeing You" she really taps into the duality of Kirk - taking an old tune and polishing it to show off its charm while making the song feel like a personal message to listeners. Nice wrap-up.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

CD Review: Charlotte Greve/ Vinnie Sperrazza/ Chris Tordini - The Choir Invisible

Charlotte Greve/Vinnie Sperrazza/Chris Tordini
The Choir Invisible

Tom Lehrer, the great satirical composer and pianist, once quipped that most folks songs are so atrocious because they were written by "the people." Although it was said for a laugh (which it rightfully received) it implies that folk music is synonymous with simple forms, which can be utilized by the most amateur musician. When a jazz song is described as having a folk melody, the same thing is implied. The composition isn't based on a complex set of bebop changes. More likely it has to do with a simple melody (maybe built on a pentatonic scale, though I can't say for sure) and a 1-IV-V set of chords, if that. Simple building blocks, but depending on how they're used, they can still form some great music.

These thoughts came to mind while listening to the collaborative trio of Charlotte Greve (alto saxophone), Vinnie Sperrazza (drums) and Chris Tordini (bass), in which all three compose. Several of these pieces sounds simple, built on a vamp or an arpeggio. But their cohesive skill makes sure that even an ostinato like "Chant," which opens the album, kicks things off with immediate direction. Simple or not, the trio makes things sound full and infectious.

Tordini, who plays in a number of sax/bass/drums trios, shows his flexibility here. He might hold down a solid groove with Sperrazza in "Low," but he also joins Greve in playing a melody on "Change Your Name" and "Daily Task." The bassist's "Zuppio" has a stop-start melody that, to these ears, recalls Thelonious Monk's rarely heard "Gallop's Gallop," at least in the version played solo by Steve Lacy. Yet, it moves somewhere else entirely when the trio moves past the theme. Greve's lines never get too complex and even sound spare at times, yet that's just what the music seems to call for in "Low." Her tone is unique - inquisitive like Lee Konitz but fuller, with a smoothness that she maintains in the lower register.

While The Choir Invisible sometimes recalls the lively openness of Ornette Coleman's trio with David Izenzon and Charles Moffatt, the closing title track evokes another practitioner of simple but deep writing: Paul Motian. (I'm not just saying that because Sperrazza wrote the tune either.) Greve and Tordini play the melody, not perfectly in sync but with a slight delay for more drama. Sperrazza rubs his brushes on the snare, adding more color by gradually moving around the kit, finally delivering some cymbal crashes that stop short of overpowering the group. The whole thing sounds through-composed though, by the time we get to this part of the album, it could be that the trio's rapport has developed so much that they can improvise together as easily as they can play a theme.  

While this trio (who will probably be called the Choir Invisible on future releases) are serious about what they play, they also seem like they enjoy each other's company, which comes through in their performance. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

LP Review: Thelonious Monk - Palo Alto

Thelonious Monk
Palo Alto

After a delay of a few months that almost seemed to put the release in jeopardy, it's finally here!

The story of Palo Alto runs the risk of overshadowing the music that came about through this unique turn of events. Most Monk fans know the tale but it bears repeating. It all started with a teenager and a vision. That teen was Danny Scher, who was a senior at Palo Alto High School in the fall of 1968. A jazz fan, he had already brought Vince Guaraldi, Jon Hendricks and Cal Tjader to Paly for concerts that benefited the school's International Club. Through good connections and luck, he contacted Jules Columby, Monk's manager, and secured a date for his hero. Then he started promoting the show. 

The fall of '68 was not a bright time for America, which was reeling after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as the chaos that erupted at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. (The more things change....) The predominantly African-American neighborhood East Palo Alto was trying get their name changed to Nairobi to instill a sense of pride in the community. The residents of Palo Alto proper fell on the liberal side but it still didn't seem like the typical place where you'd find Thelonious Monk So when Scher ventured into of East Palo Alto to put up flyers, the cops told him to stay away and the residents wondered if this kid was serious.

Scher was serious and what happened next is almost something out of a Frank Capra film. When the budding concert promoter reached Monk at San Francisco's Jazz Workshop a few days before the Paly gig was to occur, Monk said he knew nothing about the show. Columby never returned a signed contract to Scher. Monk, who wasn't in the greatest physical shape, could have just hung up and crushed a young kid's dreams. But somehow they came to an agreement. Scher told him that his older brother would whisk the band from San Francisco to Palo Alto for the afternoon gig, getting them back for their Jazz Workshop set that night. 

And he did. The audience, most of which was lined up in the Paly parking lot and most of them coming from East Palo Alto, paid for tickets as soon as they saw the group pull up in the Scher station wagon, with Larry Gales' bass sticking out of the back. Danny Scher and Monk, whose record label was trying to rebrand him in hopes of reaching a younger market, brought two communities together for the night.

It's a great story but it doesn't answer the question - How is the music? Numerous live Monk sets continue to surface from the '60s, with the pianist leading a quartet, usually with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and a few different bassists and drummers that appeared on his Columbia albums. They're all good, but often seem interchangeable, with a limited setlist. Monk at the time was criticized as being predictable and it wasn't always incorrect. 

It's October 27. 1968 and the quartet is on fire. Monk, Rouse, Gales and Ben Riley play like they realize the once-in-a-lifetime series of events that transpired. A now-unknown janitor recorded the show, with a mix that pushes up the rhythm section in a manner we're not used to hearing from a Monk quartet. The sound quality puts Gales in the driver's seat. He takes lengthy, inspired solos in "Well, You Needn't" and "Blue Monk," using a bow in the former, which is rare since Monk apparently disliked arco solos. 

Monk draws on some of his signature solo licks, playing with the rhythm and utilizing open space. But he spends just as much time moving beyond his comfort zone and digging deeper. The transition from theme to first chorus in his solo version of "Don't Blame Me" possesses a real bounce where his right hand digs into a melody completely independent from the stride he's playing in the left hand, even as both figures complement each other.

The whole set lasts roughly 45 minutes. Rather than signing off with a snatch of "Epistrophy," the group digs in for a few choruses. With no time for a real encore, Monk plays the theme of "I Love You Sweetheart Of All My Dreams," ending with a gorgeously dissonant bang on the keys. Before things fade out, we get to hear him quickly explain why need to get going.

Palo Alto, the first time Monk has ever appeared on the Impulse! label, is packaged exquisitely with a gatefold sleeve, booklet with liner notes by Scher and Monk biographer Robin D. G. Kelley., along with a reproduction of the concert's original program (complete with the sold adverts) and poster. My vinyl had a small warp in it, though it played without skipping or making noise. As far as unearthed Monk concerts go, this one ranks up there Live at Carnegie Hall