Alexander von Schlippenbach Monk's Casino

Alexander von Schlippenbach Monk's Casino
Put together all of Thelonious Monk’s tunes and you get about 70 pieces, a catalogue rich enough that he’d be a major figure even if he’d never recorded a note. Schlippenbach’s tripledecker Monk’s Casino squeezes that entire songbook into three hours; an homage at once lovingly monumental and deliciously absurd and the audio equivalent of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) ("37 plays in 97 minutes!”). Schlippenbach himself has the authentic Monkish touch at the piano — that sound of definiteness — and the rhythm section of bassist Jan Roder and drummer Uli Jennessen is appropriately loose gaited and rough’n’tumble. With trumpeter Axel Dörner and bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall on hand, the results can often sound uncannily like a band that ought to have existed on the stage of the Five Spot, circa 1960; the missing link between Monk’s quartet and the Booker Little/Eric Dolphy quintet. The disc’s kaleidoscopic nature sometimes tells against it, with many tunes dispatched very quickly indeed, but the juxtapositions and discoveries are often delightful. A sample, for instance, is the frantic mash-up of "Four in One / Round Midnight,” or the reading of "We See,” on which the beat is kept with a bouncing rubber ball. Monk lives!

Did you assemble this band specifically to play Monk’s compositions? Was the choice of instrumentation intended to echo the Dolphy/Little Five Spot band? When I met the quartet Die Enttäushung [Axel, Rudi, Jan and Uli], we found out about our common interest in Monk. So the idea came up to play all the pieces in a single night’s performance. It was actually a group decision. The sound of the Five Spot band is good enough for us, but it is definitely not intentional!

What, for you, are the specific difficulties presented by playing Monk’s music? How much independence from the composer’s original versions do you aim for? There is no specific difficulty presented by Monk’s music, if you know the melody and are able to play it in the correct way. Concerning the arrangements, we set no limit on independence from the original, as long as it makes sense in context.

What are your current projects, besides the Monk’s Casino quintet? Next is a solo piano CD, which I will be recording for Intakt in June. The Leo disc, Lok.03, is a special project using two pianos and turntables. Not necessarily a new direction for me, but many interesting possibilities. Lok.03 will be touring Japan this August. (Intakt)