Frank Carlberg's Big Band Takes Extended Flights On Familiar Monk Themes

Mar 13, 2017
Originally published on March 15, 2017 1:22 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a new album of compositions inspired by Thelonious Monk, written by pianist Frank Carlberg. Even on Carlberg's first recordings back in the '90s, he played Monk compositions. Carlberg was born in Finland, educated in Boston and lives in New York. Kevin says Frank Carlberg's big band takes extended flights on familiar Monk themes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK CARLBERG COMPOSITION, "DRY BEAN STEW")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: "Dry Bean Stew" by Frank Carlberg's large ensemble, Michael Sarin on drums. It's from the album "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations And Nightmares," a set of meditations on thelonious monk's odd but catchy melodies. "Dry Bean Stew," for instance, fixates on the opening of Monk's "I Mean You."

Carlberg quotes and paraphrases so extensively from the Monk tunes that inspire him, you might fairly hear some of these pieces as elaborate arrangements of Monk rather than new compositions. But however you to classify them, Carlberg opens these melodies out with a masterful control over the flow of the material and some artful transitions. The band is tight, too. This is from the same piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK CARLBERG COMPOSITION, "DRY BEAN STEW")

WHITEHEAD: John Carlson just getting warmed up there on trumpet. Composer Frank Carlberg also loves Charles Mingus' impassioned orchestral music and nods to him, too. Carlberg's bustling sphere echoes Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." But the alternately loose and tight horns and abrupt change-ups are right out of Mingus' playbook. That's Chris Washburne on trombone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK CARLBERG COMPOSITION)

WHITEHEAD: A few pieces on Frank Carlberg's "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations And Nightmares" are less tethered to Monk's music. A couple are vocal settings of his pithy sayings, including this one. It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights. That Monk-ism had been jotted down by saxophonist Steve Lacy. And Carlberg's melody nods to Lacy's settings of poetic texts. The singer is Christine Correa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALWAYS NIGHT")

CHRISTINE CORREA: (Singing) It must be always night. Otherwise, they wouldn't need the lights.

WHITEHEAD: As the band's pianist, Frank Carlberg does a little Monk-ish bonking (ph) but mostly avoids aping his distinctive touch and timing. Carlberg is less fascinated by Monk's piano here than by how his composed lines move with their own internal logic. The piece, "International Man Of Mystery" references Monk's "Misterioso."

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK CARLBERG COMPOSITION, "INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY")

WHITEHEAD: Kirk Knuffke there on cornet. He also gets an extended feature on the one Monk tune that appears under its own name, "Round Midnight." Thelonious Monk's hundredth birthday is coming up in October, and there will be many more tributes this year. His influence is everywhere. And as Frank Carlberg reminds us, his melodies are hard to resist.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK CARLBERG COMPOSITION)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz." He reviewed "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations And Nightmares" by Frank Carlberg's Large Ensemble. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a Cuban novel about fanaticism, anti-Semitism and political cowardice. That's after a break. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.