Tribute to Bird and Monk was conceived by arranger-producer Heiner Stadler, who assembled a sextet in 1978 to reinterpret selected compositions by Charlie “Bird” Parker and Thelonious Monk. The album was by no means an attempt to slavishly recreate the sound of the originals, as recorded and performed years before. Stadler’s vision was to breathe something new into these classics, and he was recognized for his efforts by numerous critics at the time. The seventy-eight minute album has been remixed and remastered by Malcolm Addey and is now available on Labor Records.
Stadler put together an interesting group of experienced musicians for this project. For the rhythm section, Stadler chose bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Lenny White. At the time Workman was best known for his work in groups led by such luminaries as John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and Wayne Shorter. White was renowned as part of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. Stadler also chose veteran pianist Stanley Cowell, who brought to the project experiences gained during more than a decade of session work.
Contributing cornet and flugelhorn, Thad Jones had a direct link to one of the artists being honored, having played on Monk’s 5 by Monk by 5 (1959). Rounding out the horns were tenor saxophonist George Adams (who had recorded with Charles Mingus) and trombonist George Lewis. Together these musicians pushed the boundaries of the compositions as originally conceived. Simply put, these recordings sound pretty far out there, even today. That this is not a tribute in a stylistic sense is evident from the opening number, Charlie Parker’s “Air Conditioning” (aka “Drifting on a Reed”), which pushes what was originally a three-minute bebop tune into a very free twelve-minute exploration.
Perhaps the album’s centerpiece, though, is the extended (running more than twenty minutes) polytonal treatment of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” All the ensemble members make essential contributions, but Lenny White’s constantly inventive, shifting rhythms ground this piece. Thad Jones’ cornet solo provides dazzling flair. Parker’s “Perhaps” finds Adams switching from tenor to flute, for some aggressive, roller-coaster runs before switching back for a wild tenor solo. Trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater makes an appearance on Monk’s “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are,” with Jones absent.
Challenging music to be sure, Heiner Stadler’s Tribute to Bird and Monk is not for all tastes. The experimental treatment of these compositions requires patience and concentration. Included is a fifteen-page booklet, which is light on photos but heavy on text, providing further insight into Stadler’s vision for this project.