Heiner Stadler – Tribute to Bird and Monk – Labor Records LAB 7074, 78:34 ***1/2:
(Heiner Stadler – arranger, conductor; Thad Jones – cornet, flugelhorn; George Adams – tenor saxophone, flute; George Lewis – trombone; Stanley Cowell – piano; Reggie Workman – bass; Lenny White – drums; Warren Smith – timpani (tracks 5 & 6); Cecil Bridgewater – trumpet (track 2))
There are probably a thousand Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker tributes. Everyone has a favorite and the tributes continue to proliferate. German bandleader Heiner Stadler’s Tribute to Bird and Monk – originally released as a double vinyl record by Tomato Records in 1978 – is equal to some, better than others and not as highly rated as various similar tributes. But since Stadler’s album has been out of print for some time, this newly remixed reissue on the Labor label affords the opportunity to reevaluate Stadler’s Monk/Parker interpretations or discover the material for the first time.
Stadler’s arrangements of three Bird tunes (“Air Conditioning,” “Au Privave” and “Perhaps”) and three Monk pieces (“Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are,” “Straight No Chaser” and “Misterioso”) straddle bebop and avant-garde and blend customary structure with modernism. Stadler pulled together a broadly ranged sextet (supplemented on two tracks by guest percussionist Warren Smith) to assist in adapting the music. The horn front line includes Thad Jones – a Monk alumnus – on cornet and Flugelhorn (he is replaced by Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet during “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are”); tenor saxophonist George Adams, who spent time with Charles Mingus; and AACM member George Lewis on trombone. The rhythm section has pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Reggie Workman (who was part of both the John Coltrane and Max Roach groups) and drummer Lenny White, whose credits include Miles Davis and Return to Forever.
A polytonally-reshaped “Air Conditioning” opens the album. The horns enter in fast unison and then each artist takes a solo: Jones kicks off with aggressive cornet phrasing, then Lewis pushes into freer territory and finally Adams completes the move from earthy tones to spatial adventurousness. Cowell continues the explorative revision with a bold keyboard improvisation and the nearly 13-minute piece concludes with a quieter but no less discordant break with bass and drums solos.
The Monk compositions are the most dramatic. “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are” extends to almost 19 minutes, with a comprehensive reworking of Monk’s theme and a notable Cowell solo. Monk’s phrases are separated by brief free collective improvisational segments with succinct soloing, so the melody does not lose continuity, even as the musicians create a crowded mosaic of multi-tiered textures. At over 20 minutes, “Straight No Chaser” is elongated and reformatted into another polytonal free improvisational construction with a dense design. The famous theme rises and then falls away numerous times, while Cowell and White provide a free jazz foundation. Stadler divides his arrangement into distinct declinations which shift from full ensemble friction to single-instrument soloing and back again. “Misterioso” is likewise disjointed where polytonality once again frames the content, the melody is deliberately attacked and hacked up and a heavy percussive quality, doubled by both White’s drums and Smith’s timpani, fills the spaces. The highlight is a Workman solo where he utilizes several stratagems, starting with a pizzicato segment and ending with a sensitive, articulate arco portion.
Engineer Malcolm Addey’s new digital remix enables listeners to notice more of the nuances in Stadler’s concentrated arrangements. The reissue also has enhanced commentary. Robert Palmer’s original liner notes are reproduced but are complemented by a new Howard Mandel introduction which attempts to put Stadler’s project into historical perspective. Tribute to Bird and Monk may not be a revelation but it does remain an interesting and challenging listening experience, a rewarding look at creative homage.
1. Air Conditioning
2. Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are
3. Au Privave
4. Straight No Chaser
— Doug Simpson