There is so much good music out there, that real gems can elude discovery for long periods of time. The high noise floor of well marketed but mediocre stuff available doesn’t always make it any easier to find the gems. Sometimes the hidden gems are musicians or groups that are emerging from, or wallowing in obscurity. These are gems that are hidden from much of the world of music lovers. Other times the gems are simply hidden from individuals, while being well known (or at least known) to the listening public at large.
One of my recently unearthed gems falls into that latter category. I had heard about the early 1960’s Steve Lacy/Rowell Rudd Quartet that performed the music of Thelonious Monk, but I had not heard it until recently. I ordered the hatOLOGY reissue of their 1963 session School Days, while exploring the Cadence website. It is amazing to me that I hadn’t sought out this recording earlier in my life. I have a great affinity for Monk’s music, as well as piano-less quartets fronted by trombone and sax, so this CD is right up my alley.
The back of the CD lists no composer credits, but under the title offers the sub-title “Improvisations on compositions by Thelonious Monk.” This doesn’t feel like repertory treatment of Monk’s material. It feels more like the compositions are the fifth member of a free improvisation. Monk’s tunes have an organic order that creates an inescapable gravity, that both keeps the performers in the spirit of the tunes, and allows them to wander about, knowing that they will be held in orbit around the core of the composition.
The performances are buoyant and animated. I can hear the comfort and confidence that come from regular working relationships amongst the musicians. Lacy and Rudd set each other off in beautiful stylistic distinction. The rhythm section of Henry Grimes and Dennis Charles swings hard, and captures the spirit of the soloists and the tunes.
As soon as I heard the first few notes of this CD, the music grabbed me. I’m glad I found it, or it found me, or however that works. Keep looking for those hidden gems.