Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Straightaway Dangerous: Theolonius Monk’s CRISS-CROSS

Thelonious Monk, Criss-Cross
(Monk, piano; Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; John Ore, bass; Frankie Dunlop, drums)

Originally released in 1963, Criss-Cross shows Monk at his playful and deconstructive best. Of particular note is Monk’s take on the standard Tea for Two. He breaks the melody down to its essence and rebuilds it with his own quirky harmonies—not Monk’s most radical performance, but it provides real insight into his style and, if you have never heard Monk, it is a great introduction to this innovative jazz master.

Oddly, Monk’s aesthetic approach often reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s. They were both playful and innovative, and they both remained attuned to traditional forms while making them radically unique:

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

--Emily Dickinson, 1890

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