Review by Monique Avakian
The quintet was on time, but I was a little late. I walked in on a vibes solo and that was the start of one WOW after another. Oh! What a group! Time was upended, suspended, ingested and befriended. Like Nicola Tesla in that famous photo from the lab in Colorado, I remained seated, yet altered most certainly via the massive lightning bolts of creativity generated by the Thelonious 4 + 1.
Playing an all-Monk program is an ambitious challenge for any and all who dare to try to have that much serious fun. This Pentagram of the Possible delivered a very satisfying evening of close listening and radical chances. The Thelonious 4 come to us from all points essential: Argentina (Guillermo Celano, guitar), Germany (Andreas Metzler, bass), and the Netherlands (Iman Spaargaren, saxophone). The group formed in the Netherlands while the members were studying at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. I like to romantically envision the Netherlands as a place hell-bent on encouraging all manner of constructivist hi-jinks; a place where building beautiful, functional, abstract concepts is cultivated both inside and outside of the mind. Tony Miceli and drummer Dan Monaghan both live in Philly, and, well, even the Vegetarians among us know all about the battle between the states on the finer points of the food item known as the “cheese-steak.”
New York may come in second when it comes to cheese-steaks, but we were certainly in a privileged position to have Somethin’ Jazz Club host this group on October 19th. The group took us through Light Blue, Play it Twice, Bolivar Blues, Introspection, and Skippy (plus whatever tunes I missed). The solos were long and flavorful, and the group was tight and fierce, yet completely relaxed.
Tony Miceli the vibist, remains not only eternally unruffled and specifically centered, but exudes a kind of “chill” that can only be expressed in degrees of warmth. Mirroring the deep duality of cold metal and warm sound forged by his instrument, Mr. Miceli consistently offers listeners the universe inside each and every singular choice of note, rhythm, concept, feeling and phrase. With an open mind and generous hand, he invites you take a trip into the outer and inner realms. The technique of a master vibist such as Mr. Miceli is a feat to be studied as well as appreciated for those us drawn to this instrument. If you’ve never seen this man play live, I highly recommend a trip to the city of Brotherly Love–he is such a highly evolved instrumentalist. “Ripping vibes solo!” read my notes, again and again.
Continuing on with percussion, drummer Dan Monaghan was on board for the evening, and he is another feat to behold! I never heard this guy play before, and I’m dying to hear him again. Filled with joy and completely involved with the group and the music, this man echoed, threaded, motivated and united his cohorts into a space of group collaboration that drove the groove and rattled my heart to expansive heights of empathy. His way of playing seemed like a soulful kind of juxtaposition—he played in a certain way that seemed familiar, but his choices were kind of like giving us a concrete means to an unexpected and abstract end. It was cool approach, and he worked very well as complement to the vibes especially.
Next up, Andreas Metzler on bass. In a group like this, it’s too easy to overlook this instrument, precisely because the bass might have to be more straight up at times in order to support all this wild experimentation. But Mr. Metzler refused to drift into obscurity. He provided all that the group needed, and then some. On “Introspection” in particular, Metzler supported the band rhythmically, but also had a melodic and conceptual grasp that allowed for a way~out kind of spontaneity that dove-tailed magnificently with the trippy guitar.
As for the guitar, it’s interesting, because I used to think that putting guitar and vibes together was kind of redundant. And maybe that’s true if a guitarist plays conventionally with comping style and overall sound. But in the context of the Thelonious 4, Guillermo Celano actually propelled the group forward in all kinds of inventive ways, and not just sonically with electronics. Unlike a lot of guitarists, Celano was able to show restraint and lots of it. This made his excursions super powerful, not only when he soloed, but also when he comped for others. His comping style seems quite melodic and harmony driven. Celano’s choices during Bolivar Blues were terrifically juicy and invigorating as he had this unusual way-out surfer vibe going. It was very abstract, yet he never left the room. Tre’ cool.
Iman Spaargaren on sax also showed really effective restraint. He, too, felt a lot more melodic, and the way he solos helped my ear engage. Sometimes, sax players get hung up on antics and rapid runs up and down to the point where I kind of check out because it feels sort of like a cut and paste exercise. Spaargaren, however, had none of that going on. I noticed he had a way of breathing that involved filling the throat. I’m not sure about all the specifics of this kind of technique, but Spaargaren offered a lot of nuance and subtlety that made him rather magnetic. He took the role of announcer and near the end wittily quipped: “The time goes faster than we can play.” I was sad to have it end. This was a real listening adventure and a beautiful evening.
CD: Thelonious 4 Meets Tony Miceli: http://www.thelonious4.com/music.html
(complete with liner notes, and even a poem written by an enthusiastic individual named Guy Zinger! )
Oh! And stay tuned for the Vibes Congress – coming up in January, 2014