There are musicians who are mannerists or are revisionists or subversionists or pyrotechnicians or any stripe of stylist, sometimes more than one, available to the human mind…but then there are the gymnasts, and that's the role of Alex Conde and his highly arresting Olympic-level piano and interpretation work in this all-Monk all-the-time Zoho release. The great Thelonius' music has been undergoing a Renaissance of late—to highly gratifying results, may I say?—and Descarga for Monk is a first-water effort, not just because of Conde's dauntingly impressive virtuosities but also due to the backing trio and an unusually vital hand-clapping / footstomp duo (Amparo Conde and Carmen Carrasco) who add far more than the mere mention in words can convey, clearly shown in the opening cut.
Conde is simultaneously deadly serious, playful, overflowing with ideas, and able to turn on a dime whenever the urge strikes, a highly individualistic player possessing tons and tons of both striking and subtle invocations, but I was also struck by bassist Jeff Chambers, who adds colors and nuances I hadn't at all expected, the sort of how-the-hell-did-he-figure-THAT-out that?!?! mindset Monk himself woulda dug, inflections completely at home while comfortably strange. Then there's John Santos, who practically owns Thelonius with his percussives, even despite Conde's Guaraldi-esque narrative excellences. At the tail end, drummer Jon Arkin interlocks with the guy as Conde jumps into repeating patterns, and the levels of rhythm are headier than hell.
Ugly Beauty is a wonder in balladry with an understated flamenco texture, Conde light and starry, the percussives as unto angels treading warm night sands beside the Gulf of Mexico, while Evidence is a jaw-dropper as a pointillistic dance floor number halfway between Tito Puente and Frank Zappa. As Monk intended, there's as much of the civilized here as there is of the intelligently untamed. Truth to tell, you'd have to be drunk or high to dance to the song, but I must suspect that's half the hedonism of the intent. Conde's lines meander all over the place in it yet stay well within spotlight and mirror ball radiances.
Count on more than a little Chick in Ugly Beauty, and throughout Descarga, but also mark that track as my fave in the pack, as, #1, Chick's rarely conjured in this fasion (or, dammit!, at all anymore), and, #2, the performance is still entirely Conde's despite all that. The length is an involving 6:06, but I wish it had been 25:30, 'cause when Alex gets into his complexity factors, he sits with the masters. That's why he's on Zoho, and, man o man, am I ever going to miss these discs as FAME enters the reliquary!
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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