Wadada Leo Smith ‘Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk’ (Tum) 3/5

Better known for his more avant-garde musings, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith offers up one of the more personalised tributes to celebrate the centenary of Thelonius Monk. A solo trumpet album can make for a difficult listening experience all in one go and is probably best sampled in smaller doses. That said, the recording is mellower than you might expect and highly melodic in places. A haunting rendition of ‘Ruby My Dear’ is a highlight and works well as a solo piece. Likewise, there is a whimsical self-composition of ‘Adagio: Monkishness – A cinematic vision of Monk plating solo piano’, where Smith succeeds in creating what can only be described as a plaintive sound on the trumpet.

Stylistically, Wadada Leo Smith is a far more introverted trumpeter than say Lester Bowie and is not an obvious candidate to interpret the music of Monk. That said, he has a thorough grounding in the history of jazz having been a student of ethnomusicology and having recorded with a variety of musicians from Derek Bailey to Anthony Braxton, and has recorded for labels ranging from Black Saint and ECM to Freedom. If one had to make a criticism of this tribute recording, then it might be that some form of other musical accompaniment to break the formula would have been welcome and, secondly, by no means all the interpretations necessarily hint at the music of Monk, which may be a positive sign for some, but ultimately it is the music of Monk that is being re-evaluated and revered.

Tim Stenhouse