The music of Thelonious Monk has been a source of endless fascination and with good reason. Monk’s universe has its own laws. Beautifully constructed and quirky, soulful but also paced by brushstrokes of humor, his music seems open to an endless variety of readings.
In his MONK’estra project, pianist, conductor and arranger John Beasley, whose long list of credits includes performing and recording with Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan and James Brown, set out to re-imagine Monk’s music in a big band setting, not as a repertory exercise but as fresh interpretations done in Monk’s spirit.
His arrangements of even some of Monk’s iconic pieces, captured in two Grammy-nominated volumes, take the music to unexpected places. “Epistrophy” hints at a rumba; the nocturnal mysteries of “‘Round Midnight” get reframed by a modern soul groove; “Little Rootie Tootie” opens with, of all choices, a cha cha cha, and Monk’s lesser known “Brake’s Sake” (which opens MONK’estra Vol. 2) is reborn with a muscular backbeat and a rap intervention.