Monk and mixed media: I spent yesterday morning at Nelson Diaz's New York art studio in SoHo. We listened to jazz LPs and viewed four of his most recently completed paintings. They are stunning—as are all of his mixed media works on canvas.
Nelson is an intense guy. He reads French philosophy, plays the drums and conga at a professional level, loves Ferraris and Ducati motorcycles, and often paints through the night (at times with his hands, to capture what he calls "the human energy" missing from most art today) while listening to LPs by Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Steve Gadd, Return to Forever, and other jazz artists.
So earlier in the week, when I came across a copy of the double LP Thelonious Monk: At the Five Spot, I picked it up for our listening session. This album was released on the Milestone label in 1977. It combined selections from two individual Monk albums for Riverside Records—Thelonious in Action and Misterioso. The tracks were recorded live in July and August of 1958 and remain my favorites of Monk's.
Monk's playing is to my ear at its peak on the Five Spot dates. Johnny Griffin on tenor is sensational, as is Roy Haynes on drums and Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass. The perfect soundtrack for viewing strong art on a rainy fall morning.
Nelson's work is mostly influenced by Francis Bacon. Nelson spent time with Bacon in Europe back in the 1980s and fully gets what Bacon was about. Bacon's work is highly provocative, as is Nelson's, so Rhythm-A-Ning, Epistrophy and all the others were ideal for studying Nelson's series, The Isolated Christ. They are four different interpretations of Christ as depicted in Leonardo's Last Supper.
All are mixed media on canvas, and each piece is large—79" by 59." Leonardo's Christ is captured in vivid orange and white on a jet black background with a bright green mathematical grid positioned behind him. Listening to Monk play and Johnny Griffin blow while studying these four pieces—Troubled Spirit, Betrayal, Solitude, and Being and Nothingness—was a very spiritual experience to say the least. Nelson talked about adding green lasers and composing a primitive rhythmic soundtrack to accompany the pieces when exhibited. Works for me!
PS: I just noticed that Monk's At the Five Spot (the Milestone issue) has just been remastered and released on CD. If you don't already own the two Riverside CDs, go here and grab At the Five Spot.
And go here to dig Nelson's works. The series we viewed yesterday has not yet been posted, but it will be soon.
Northern exposure: I've been listening all week to an absolutely wonderful CD by Reno De Stefano—a jazz guitarist, professor of jazz studies at the University of Montreal, and a Wes Montgomery scholar. Talk about someone who walks the talk.
The album features Reno on guitar and Michel Donato on upright bass. That's it—just the two of them. There are 10 excellent originals by Reno and four standards, including Just Friends, Summertime, The Days of Wine and Roses and a tremendous version of All the Things You Are.
Reno's Incident Mineur, La Vie Change and Triplet's Lullaby are particularly special—but all of his original works have a delicate, poetic sound that make great use of full chords in the spirit of Wes and Joe Pass. Michel's contrabass playing is rich and round, so it's a smart muscular contrast to Reno's running lines and chord formations.
Blog boom box: Be sure to check out the jazz blog posts being put up by Michael McCaw, who not only knows his stuff but also is a technological wizard.
In addition to his insightful essays on cutting edge jazz albums (last week he featured an essay on a new album called Ebioto, featuring saxophonist Odean Pope), Michael also posts a widget that lets you listen to the album's tracks.
So while you're reading about artists you may not be aware of, you actually can listen to the albums he's writing about. Go here to read Michael's blog and listen to artists who may be new to you.