Over three concerts Jonathan Gee, Tony Kofi and very special guest Charles Tolliver lead an all-star ensemble through the complete works of a jazz genius.
Thelonious Sphere Monk remains a seminal figure in the evolution of contemporary jazz – a wayward genius and force of nature whose spiky, instantly recognisable piano style and writing refer back to jazz masters like Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington – but whose vision was of a future seen through the prism of a bebop revolution in the ’40s where Monk himself played a key role.
Monk is one of the elite jazz composers – pianist Jonathan Gee and saxophonist Tony Kofi are steeped in the maestro’s repertoire, and re-visit a previously landmark Festival project, playing all Monk’s songs in a day, with three concerts, each inspired by a classic Monk album, as well as recalling collaborations with the likes of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Gerry Mulligan, with an ensemble packed with British jazz talent, including Cleveland Watkiss, Byron Wallen, Jason Yarde, Jean Toussaint, Jim Rattigan, Andy Grappy, Ben Hazelton and Rod Youngs.
The icing on the cake is a re-creation of Monk’s milestone 1959 Town Hall concert with music written for a ten-piece band, led by the charismatic trumpeter, arranger and founder of Strata East Records Charles Tolliver, who attended the original concert as a teenager, and who has re-constructed the original music from his treasured, original LP. Tolliver’s restaging responds in breathtaking form the tensions and energies that made the first performance so electric – a combination of individual and group interaction, infused with Monk’s fusion of African-American rhythms, solo virtuosity and orchestral sweep.