Opera House, Wellington (8pm)
Saturday, June 9
John Beasley’s MONK’estra is a big band dedicated to playing the music of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk and for this performance the core of the America group was augmented by some local players including Rodger Fox and members from his jazz orchestra.
Beasley’s a real talent, a multi-instrumentalist, a wizard-arranger, he is effortlessly cool and he’s worked with everyone – including touring internationally with legends such as Sergio Mendes and Freddie Hubbard; he was part of Miles Davis’ final touring line-up too. He’s also worked with Steely Dan, James Brown, Queen Latifah and the Spice Girls among many others.
And his fixation with Monk’s music – leading to the creation of this current ensemble – has seen him creating performances special performances as the music director for both International Jazz Day concerts and the Thelonious Monk Institute.
He’s a good get for a Jazz Festival audience, there’s pedigree, undeniable talent but it’s also extremely safe. That slightly wobbly aspect to Monk’s music, the tension, a slight unpredictability, the surprise of it all – well, that’s all gone here, polished over, no cracks showing at all.
And that makes it perfect as introduction to fairweather-fans. Quite outside of that the tasty solos, the no-dud setlist (constant pearlers from the opening Epistrophy to the encore of ‘Round Midnight) and the enthusiasm for the project means it’s a win. That Monk fanatics can of course be on board too.
I loved it while it was happening.
And then went home and played the real stuff. Which will always mean way more to me.
I had hoped, being only a little bit impressed with the recordings of the MONK’estra, that it would really pop live. But there was no huge sizzle. No definite spark. Just a rudimentary run-through. Couldn’t fault the playing. And in some weird way that was almost part of the problem. A strange complaint of course. But I’m still going to make it.