Liner Notes For David Liebman - Monk’s Mood
Fast approaching the millennium, there are far too many sheep and precious few music shepherds in our midst.
Thelonious Sphere Monk, 1917-1982, was a genuine shepherd, one of those rare artists whose perspective and approach were so idiosyncratic that he would forever change the way people heard jazz. Monk pared his music down to its bare bones, revealing a nearly geometric sensibility of distinctive, curiously-accented rhythms and offbeat, angular melodies that flirted with atonality. His melodies are angular, his harmonies full of jarring clusters, and he uses both notes and the absence of notes in unexpected ways.
Only Duke Ellington and arguably Charles Mingus are the equals of Thelonious Monk as a composer. Monk’s creations force musicians to exert themselves to their fullest, and to put a premium on surprise. His compositions demand and exact incisive improvisation from the musicians who play them. In the language of jazz, that is truly high praise, hence one of Monk’s nicknames, the High Priest of Jazz.
David Liebman is a modern day musical avatar, an inspiration. A veritable individualist in the spirit of his musical forefathers who has never compromised his artistic integrity, Liebman pursued his own eclectic path with dogged determination. One need only examine the body of Liebman’s work for the evidence, for he has recorded over sixty times as a leader during his thirty year plus career.
The idea behind this recording was, according to Lieb, “to play Monk’s music without a chord instrument, like the piano or guitar, and secondarily, to put a different rhythmic feel on each tune.” According, with this perfectly suited trio, there’s a zen-like feel, capturing the bare essence of Monk.
Liebman has previously utilized the trio format effectively, notably his first group, Open Sky, and in more recent collaborations with French musicians, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, and on a CD of Cole Porter compositions. “I used a trio for the same reason as here, with Monk’s music, to make those tunes come alive without the chords.”
All of Monk’s melodies have touched Lieb but “it’s the ballads that kill me. The ballads are their melodies are what really brought me into the record. They show that you don’t need the harmony—you don’t need a chordal instrument to get the full hit of the tune, which demonstrates the extraordinary substance of Monk’s music. The melodies stand up on their own..”
Liebman wanted pure Monk in these grooves, so “I took the exact leadsheets of Bill Dobbins’ transcriptions of Monk’s original recordings. I tried to have Eddie play, as much as possible, exactly what was on the originals. He was able to play more than just the root, but 5ths, 7ths, and 10ths on top of the chord. Only two or three people in the world could have done that. I didn’t think it would be possible to get Eddie for this recording and when he said yes, I knew I arrange the music challengingly with a lotof open intervals, third and tenths, that a lot of guys just couldn’t play.”
Gomez and Liebman have collaborated on a half a dozen recordings, including Liebman’s String Quartet (Dedications, on DMP) and a in a rrio with drummer Bobby Moses (Spirit Renewed, Owl Records)
Drummer Adam Nussbaum, who worked with Lieb repeatedly, including his late 70s Quintet which also featured John Scofield and Terumasa Hino, is one of the “great, swinging straightahead drummers and an expert in the jazz repertory as well. He knows every tune. When I was researching the music, he came up with versions of ‘Skippy’ and ‘Gallop’s Gallop’ that I didn’t have. Adam is the kind of cat who not only knows the tune, but the date it was recording, the personnel, everything. He’s a walking encyclopedia of jazz. Last summer, I did a gig with Adam and Rufus Reid on bass. We played ‘Nutty’ on that gig and that’s one reasons we did this recording.”
Lieb notes that Gomez’ bass has a “different sound on this recording, it’s darker than usual. He’s usually a bit more pointed with treble to his sound. For whatever reason, the combination of Kent Heckman, the studio engineer and Eddie, he got a darker sound that usual and it fills up the whole bottom of the music. Consequently the tone of this record is a darker color and I play more in muted vein. It goes well with Monk’s music.”
“There’s a certain kind of humor in Monk’s music,” Lieb adds. “It can invite cuteness, but I don’t see it that way. The music has some pointed angles that can be seen that way, but for me to play it cute would be a mistake. ‘Teo’ goes a bit in that direction, with a certain impishness, so we put a reggae vibe on it. ‘Skippy,’ as well, with its continuous 8th note line is kind of sing song-like, which could be cute but Monk, you’ve got to be careful not to go into parody. His music is very witty and invites that but without the piano present, it’s easier to get away from it.”
Lieb, who plays piano on the final track, ‘Monk’s Mood,” a duet with Gomez, believes that “you can’t absorb Monk’s influence and not sound like him. With a common voice like Bud Powell or Trane, you can submerge yourself, but once you play a Monk type thing, you’re Monk unless you change it completely. That’s another reason we didn’t use a piano.”
On “Monk’s Mood,” David Lieibman has really gotten inside of Monk’s music, and in doing so, reaches a new level in his own playing. He manages to inhabit the music to the point where studiousness and mimicry disappear and originality breaks through. He doesn’t replicate Monk’s music, although he perfectly understands it. To play these tunes well would be accomplishment enough, but Lieb and his cohorts breathe new life and spirit into Monk’s music.
And so David Liebman’s creative journey continues. He has recorded many CDs and albums under his own leadership as well as being a featured sideman on over one hundred and fifty. His artistic output has ranged form straight ahead to chamber jazz; from fusion to avant garde and his remarkably eclectic approach has always been marked by its conviction, singular approach and a sense of adventure so highly valued in Liebman’s aesthetic. Combined with his written works and teaching activities, David Liebman defines the jazz artist in our time.