Saturday, September 13, 2014

Monk-centric performance by the Claire Daly Quartet opens the Jazz Kitchen side of Indy Jazz Fest

Claire Daly brought her hearty sound on baritone sax to Indianapolis for the first time Friday night, presenting a program largely devoted to Thelonious Monk. The venerated composer-pianist (1917-1982) left behind a body of challenging work — easy to enjoy, hard to play.

Formidable instrument (left) and Claire Daly
The New York-based quartet Daly travels with is the one that recorded "Baritone Monk" (NCB Jazz). In two sets at the Jazz Kitchen, the band sounded thoroughly imbued with the Monk aesthetic. The humor, assertiveness and occasional tenderness characteristic of Monk had been thoroughly absorbed, and given a fresh direction.

That didn't mean unimaginative idolatry, however. Monk has his imitators, but pianist Steve Hudson sported a style all his own. It's compounded of chains of close-order chordal marching interspersed with long, single-note runs to either end of the keyboard, plus cryptic phrases and swinging pauses that evoke the master's quirkiness.

Hudson played some of the evening's most deep-delving solos, displaying a lively imagination from the opening number, "Let's Cool One," on through the end, a Rahsaan Roland Kirk tune with an upbeat Latin pulse, "Theme for the Eulipions."

That closer featured two guests, making their second appearance of the evening: Napoleon Maddox of Cincinnati, a beatboxer and vocal percussionist, and pianist Billy Foster of Gary. Daly had invited Maddox onstage to end the first set with "Bright Mississippi," Monk's lively tune based on "Sweet Georgia Brown."

Maddox fitted his multirhythmic array of percussive mouth sounds in to the ensemble, then mixed it up fruitfully with drummer Peter Grant.  In the Kirk piece, he fashioned an intricate duet with bassist Mary Ann McSweeney. Foster brought his elegant, down-home style to bear on "Monk's Blues" and "Theme for the Eulipions," Hudson yielding the bench to him.

The bassist did extensive arco playing in Monk's "Light Blue," with particularly good focus and clarity once she got out on her own in a solo. And Daly became stronger as the concert proceeded, adding more flexibility in the upper register to complement her mastery of the baritone's droll "foghorn" range.

The leader twice picked up the flute, once for a John Lewis piece and another time in Monk's ballad "Pannonica,"his lyrical salute to an aristocratic patron, which Daly played with gentle straightforwardness.

The set had an abundance of delights, none more relaxed and confident than the Hudson-Daly duet in Monk's perky yet grindingly slow "Green Chimneys." The audience's enthusiastic response to this appeared to please Daly, who noted at one point that there's too much talk about the need to "support" jazz, as though the music were in intensive care. Her quartet's performance Friday night indicated that positive health reports are not hard to find on the bandstand, confirmed by paying customers' enthusiasm.