(l-r) Bernard Stepien, Scott Warren and David Broscoe. ©Brett Delmage, 2011
(l-r) Bernard Stepien, Scott Warren and David Broscoe. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Ottawa avant-garde jazz musician Bernard Stepien has taken a new approach to Thelonious Monk's music: he's left out Monk's own instrument, replacing piano chords with sax, trumpet, and bass and drums.

At the IMOO series on Sunday, June 18, he premiered the result, to enthusiastic response, and even a request for an encore.

The first four songs were well-known numbers including Bemsha Swing and Pannonica, and were performed with verve but also reasonably recognizably.

But then the band moved into less well-known numbers and more free playing. Pieces like Light Blue and Friday the 13th gave considerable room for David Broscoe (alto sax) and Stepien (tenor sax) to improvise within the melody,  at times with great intensity. Charley Gordon (trumpet and flugelhorn) added colour and nuance to the mix.                                                       

Philippe Charbonneau (double bass) moved naturally into soulful bass solos at several points that felt organic to the music. Scott Warren (drums) again showed his appreciation of dynamics, with drumming that moved from soft brushing to commanding staccato and back again without hesitation.

With the exception of Gordon, the musicians had all played with Stepien on his Albert Ayler/Christmas carols project, which was released on CD in December 2010. One can hope the non-seasonal nature of this music will allow Stepien to continue to develop this project.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011