The Brad Linde Ensemble honors some of the jazz giants who emerged in the middle of the last century, most of them recognized instantly now by single names. This release features styles associated with Miles and Monk. Three of the tunes were on Davis's Birth of the Cool album. Four others, including two originals, are related to the vibe of that famous recording. Rounding out the even dozen are five oft-recorded by Monk, including four of his own.
The material is terrific. The arrangements, updated from the originals partly to accommodate different instrumentation, are fine; and so is the ensemble playing, though at times a mite cautious. (A Mingus project Linde is working on will change that, if he gets it right.)
But the outing tempts the gods. Birth of the Cool and the Town Hall concert album of Thelonius, also referenced by Linde, are among the finest and most influential jazz albums ever recorded. While honoring them is laudable, when it means playing the same tunes in a similar style, good luck. Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonius Monk, Phil Woods, and assorted other bop hall-of-famers are tough comps. In 1992, Mulligan and several others who were on the original Birth of the Cool session tried to duplicate the magic; even they fell short with Re-Birth of the Cool. And so it goes here – too many of the solos can't stand up to those of the honored musicians.
Trumpeter Brent Madsen provides the most frequent exceptions. His solidly melodic solo-style is evident from the opening "Budo," and his ensemble work too is confident, clear and rhythmically crisp. He shines again on a happy, loping version of Denzil Best's "Move." Other soloists hold their own on slower tempo tunes such as Monk's "Feeling that Way Now" (usually known today as "Monk's Mood.")
But bop is often challenging, and not yet second nature to all of these young players; rapid rhythmic-phrases occasionally stumble, and slalom-like changes can sound less than assured. Solos rarely grab listeners when the musicians are thinking about which chord comes next.
Though 50s bop is dated for many modern ears, Monk's quirky, sometimes joyful, sometimes poignant tunes continue to age well. He wrote around 70 of them, and they've probably been recorded more often in the last decade than ever before. Nice batch here, mostly on the medium-to-slow side. The Monk tunes feature Linde's best sax work, and guitarist Rodney Richardson, in a more contemporary style, also impresses.
The session ends with "Lulu's Back in Town," a Monk favorite from the standards book. Pianist Alex Shubert nails Monk's delightfully characteristic way with the tune, as does Gene D'Andrea's arrangement.
While jazz still has more than its share of creators and rebels, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra have legitimized thoughtful recreations of Ellington and others. Linde takes a similar path with bebop classics. The result is enjoyable, but some of the band's dedicated young musicians will benefit from a few more years in the woodshed.