NRBQ's Terry Adams Gets His Band to `Talk Thelonious' on New Monk Tribute (REVIEW)

By Mike Greenblatt | Dec 14, 2015 06:45 PM EST
Adams Plays Monk (Photo : Dave Vandell)

The first Thelonious Monk composition that NRBQ pianist/founder Terry Adams, 67, ever heard was "Off Minor." It was the early 1960s and it blew his mind. Adams had been figuring out that age-old I-IV-V blues progression. He had never heard anything like Monk! It started a lifelong fascination that has now culminated in Talk Thelonious by Adams and his NRBQ band-mates on vinyl (Euclid Records) and CD (Clang! via Burnside Distribution).

When Adams hit New York City in 1967, he followed Monk around like a little puppy dog. He'd go to every gig he could, so much so that the legendary patron-of-the-arts, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter--who did so much for so many jazz musicians--befriended the young man to get him in for free. When Monk died of a stroke at 64 in 1982 (after not having played piano for the last five years of his life), the Baroness-who had let Monk move into her Weehawken, New Jersey mansion-gave Adams one of Monk's hats.

In 1984, Adams took NRBQ into the studio to record two songs for Hal Willner's That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute To Thelonious Monk. After all, NRBQ had always performed Monk tunes. It went so well, Adams started planning his own all-Monk album for the band. Problem is, Monk's style permeated his compositions to the point where style, in this case, became substance. In other words, it ain't easy interpreting The Man. Yet, if anybody can do it, NRBQ-whose mission statement has always been to play any genre of music in the universe-can and will. Add a few friends and you've got the makings of something special.

(Photo : courtesy Clang!)
Terry Adams gets to 'Talk Thelonious' on new CD.

Still, how do you make such brain-tattoos as "Monk's Mood," "Ruby My Dear," "In Walked Bud," "Ugly Beauty," "Straight No Chaser" and seven others that have been indelibly stamped upon the collective jazz consciousness sound fresh and new? You don't. You can't. What you can do is to garnish it like a good soup or salad. To that end, "Reflections" starts with a pipe-organ. "Hornin' In" is driven by competing altos. "That Old Man" features an ocarina (ancient flute). Other tracks go so far as to employ pedal steel, electric guitars, strings, harmonica and accordion. Both live and studio, Talk Thelonious raises the bar on any future Monk tribute. It's that good.

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