January 31st, 2018 | Album reviews

Thelonious Sphere Monk
World Galaxy / Alpha Pup

Crafting a celebratory catalog-spanning tribute album to Thelonious Sphere Monk on what would have been his 100th birthday is by no means a simple undertaking, with the combined weight of the jazz cognoscenti’s expectations as much a challenge to grapple with as the complexity and distinction of the material itself. However, Tim Conley (as MAST) as assembled a slew of learned musical warriors like saxophonist Gavin Templeton, trumpeter Dan Rosenboom, and drummer Makaya McCraven to shepherd his electronic bleeps and bloops through the terrestrial and celestial extremities of Monk’s musical imagination. The result is wholly enjoyable—sophisticated and fun and remarkably faithful to the hand-painted cover art, which features a resplendent portrait of the composer morphing behind the keys. The luxurious “Round Midnight,” dappled with echoes of Monk’s disembodied voice, swirls above the piano like a thick spiral of smoke, calming any discomfort purists may feel during other more experimental versions of songs like “Evidence.” There is a fearlessness in the reverence that underlies this album—imbued with an energetic joie de vivre, it carries the torch Monk lit decades ago into our digital future with dignity and gusto.

Christina Gubala