This was the second show of the evening featuring a world-class group of jazz musicians who are rarely heard in an intimate setting in North Carolina. Thanks to the curating skills of Aaron Greenwald and pianist Ethan Iverson (noted in an earlier review in this series), the legendary saxophonist Houston Person and relative newcomer saxophonist Chris Potter were brought together with the no less internationally acclaimed drummer Victor Lewis and renowned bassist David “Happy” Williams.

While Monk often shared the limelight with a tenor saxophone player (for example the late Charlie Rouse and subsequently the late Paul Jeffrey, who taught at Duke for many years), it was a treat to hear two saxophonists together bringing their own identities to the forefront. Person exemplified the nuances of classic bebop while Potter brought more contemporary, though no less melodic, phraseology to the music. Lewis often added the subtle Monkish rhythmic accents that nicely complemented the unerring pulse of Williams’ bass and Iverson’s chord progressions. And all of the above were in the first Monk piece “Nutty!”

Six Monk compositions constituted the approximately one hour set. Potter demonstrated his mastery of the saxophone, particularly on the ballad “Ask Me Now,” in a skillful display of gradually building a solo through great dynamics and the artful use of glissando and rhythmic development of tension and release. Person similarly took the time to develop a masterly solo on the standard “Blue Monk” that only derives from many years of experience, sometimes playing behind the beat (Monkish again!) and subtle use of polyrhythms to emphasize parts of the melody. The same piece also included a melodic bass solo from Williams, the anchor of the group. On “Bright Mississippi,” Iverson launched into as close a replica of Monk’s off-beat placing of chords and single notes as one is likely to hear. This structure was expertly and effectively complemented by drummer Lewis.

The closing piece of the evening was probably the icing on the cake. As Iverson was completing his final remarks, he described in detail the visit he had just taken to Monk’s birthplace of Rocky Mount, NC, and remarked how it probably hadn’t changed much in 100 years, including the railway tracks running close to Thelonious Monk Memorial Park. Lo and behold a freight train passed within a very audible hundred yards of the Durham concert venue as he spoke! Naturally, this was greeted with ironic hilarity by both the musicians and audience. Not surprisingly “Rhythm-A-Ning” was an object lesson in bebop. Superbly constructed solos from Potter and Person, the latter illustrating that sometimes less-is-more in soloing especially if it leads to more complex musical expression. At one point pianist Iverson very “Monkishly” eased into a ragtime feel that was taken up by the ensemble and led into the only exchange of eight bar solos between Lewis and the other musicians. These musical conversations were both melodic and dynamic and showed Lewis’ sensitivity to those aspects of the role of a drummer in jazz; this was fittingly evident on his only complete solo – to the closing of the concert and rapturous applause from the audience.

For information on the on-going performances in this festival visit our calendar.