MAST’s Thelonious Sphere Monk is a cosmic journey reinterpreting the great Thelonious Monk Song Book in celebration of his 100th birthday. MAST tackles sixteen Monk compositions, including the acclaimed “Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Epistrophy” and “Well You Needn’t.” As well as more obscure titles like “Misterioso,” “Pannonica,” “Friday The 13th” and “Bemsha Swing.” MAST, aka Tim Conley, pays homage to the significant history of Thelonious Monk and his esteemed compositions while bringing them into the future using modern electronic bleeps, bloops, and beats. This is done in concert with Low End Theory, Los Angeles beat culture Conley is a part of. Harmonious with the mystical and metaphysical hand painted cover art by Japanese artist Tokio Aoyama, each track created is a unique world unto itself and the listener travels from one musical planet to the next on the spaceship Monk.
The sixteen track LP features a diverse cast of extraordinary musicians contributing instrumental virtuosity, which these Thelonious Monk compositions demand. NYC tenor saxophonist Chris Speed (Tim Berne, Jim Black) is haunting on “Well You Needn’t.” Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven bashes and percolates on “Nutty” and “Let’s Cool One.” As the album’s lone piano protagonist, virtuoso Brian Marsella (John Zorn, Cyro Baptista) rises to the challenge and shines on “Ask Me Now,” “‘Round Midnight” and “Straight No Chaser.” Philly born upright bassist Jason Fraticelli (Taylor McFerrin, Mark Guiliana) is expansive with endless improvisational ideas on “Blue Monk.” And don’t forget the horns! Trombonist Jonah Levine, trumpeter Dan Rosenboom (Burning Ghosts) and baritone/alto saxophonist Gavin Templeton (Nels Cline) put power into Thelonious Monk’s prodigious melodies and flourish blistering solos on “Evidence”, “Bemsha Swing,” “Epistrophy,” “Nutty,” and “Let’s Cool One.” MAST is an LA transplant via Philadelphia and a guitarist by trade. He approaches his six string leads on the album antithetically like middle-eastern influenced “Bemsha Swing,” acoustically intimate “Friday the 13th,” astral space fusion “Straight No Chaser,” and melancholic jazz ballad “Pannonica.”
In totality, the intention of Thelonious Sphere Monk is equal parts depth and fun. The jazz purist or Thelonious Monk scholar will find each rendition to be immediately recognizable and performed at a high level, yet blossomed and opened in ways not yet imagined or sonically explored. To the unfamiliar jazz listener, the underlying layers of joyous fun, wit, and playfulness, which Thelonious Monk himself embodied, will hopefully inspire the listener to further explore the rich history of this cherished American pianist and composer. Thelonious Sphere Monk.