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Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble - Elegy For Thelonious (Sunnyside)

6 March 2024

Though the singular pianist and composer Thelonious Monk was always most at home in small combos (especially piano trios), his work has proven remarkably adaptive to bigger bands. Frank Carlberg gets that, and more; having spent a long time (and a few albums) working through Monk’s catalog, the Finnish-born composer, pianist, and conductor understands what made Monk tick – musically, at least – as well as anyone. A sequel to his 2017 Monk-centric big band album Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares, Elegy For Thelonious rewrites the script: instead of leading from the keyboard, Carlberg steps up to the conductor’s podium, and instead of rearranged covers, he contributes original music inspired by or reworked from the master’s catalog. Carlberg and his expertly chosen players (including genius pianist Leo Genovese, horn players Jeremy Udden and Kirk Knuffke, and singer Christine Correa, a frequent Carlberg collaborator) lean not only into Monk’s catchy melodies, but also his playful arrangements. Even though there’s little here that sounds directly like Monk (despite many of the tunes being based on specific songs), the joyful horn charts, unexpected synthesizer squiggles, and Correa’s anything-goes approach align with Monk’s spirit perfectly. Take a spin through “Wrinkle On Trinkle,” “Spooky Rift We Pat” or the title track for great examples of Carlberg’s vision. Elegy For Thelonious is a tribute both to its subject and its creator: the former in how flexible his notoriously unparalleled compositions are, the latter in how clever and creative an interpreter the auteur can be.