Tim Warfield’s “Spherical” is a homage to the legendary Thelonious Sphere Monk. Warfield’s eighth release as leader for Criss Cross Jazz oozes class and has that “steeped in history” feel about it from beginning to end. With Warfield on tenor and soprano saxophones, the album features the cream of the crop with Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Orrin Evans on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. “Monk’s music lends itself to saxophone.” Warfield remarks, “The nature of the instrument allows us to be just as fluid playing intervallically as when we play linearly.” As Warfield also notes, it’s hard not to be individualistic when addressing Monk’s “elusive” music: “Some of the songs have simple melodies, but then the chord changes are not at all what you’d expect.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons that this sax and trumpet led album works so well. Another is the simple fact that the personnel on this recording all seem to perform with a unity and clear affinity for Monk’s writing.
“Spherical” embraces nine Monk compositions (including “‘Round Midnight, co-written with Hanighem and Williams), the traditional “That Old Man” and Warfield’s own “Blue Hawk”. Warfield approaches Monk’s music in a sincere, reverent way, using his experience and skill, along with the other band members, to create a wonderfully individual and creative take on these time-honoured tunes. His playing is at times breathtaking, especially on the sensational eleven minute long “Off Minor II”. Matching Warfield’s brilliance throughout is Eddie Henderson, whose no-limits chops and go-for-broke attitude belies his 74 years of age. When asked about Henderson, Warfield comments: “We haven’t had an opportunity to play together as much as I would like, and this is an endeavour to hopefully change that. He’s very kind and intelligent, and the spirit that he brings to the music is inspiring. It’s difficult to find musicians with whom you feel comfortable taking chances, but Eddie is completely undaunted to the idea of musical exploration.” The two horn players compliment each other very well throughout the recording. Another pleasing feature of this release is Warfield’s intelligent arrangements. “Ugly Beauty” features Warfield on soprano sax and the spacious, reharmonised arrangement allows Henderson to show us the warmth he has in his playing. “Oska T” is a prime example of how the quintet work together, with the rhythm section providing a slightly different environment for each soloist. Henderson makes his declaration and then Warfield raises the temperature another notch. Both front men solo with a cool air of authority on “Gallop’s Gallop”, whilst the smouldering, graceful “‘Round Midnight” has a soul to it that few versions have managed to capture.
Warfield sums things up himself: “I think people sometimes get into the habit of saying that Monk’s songs must be played in a certain fashion, without looking at other possibilities.” He concludes, “It may not seem this way now, but at the time Monk first introduced his music and started to become publicly recognised for his pieces, it was a pretty brash idea in comparison to the sound trending at the time. I think he would have liked what we did.”