PRESS RELEASE for "MONK IN BRAZIL" CD:
Pianist Matt King Takes Thelonious Monk on a Wild Ride Through
Brazil in Groundbreaking New Album
out August 1, 2017
In Monk In Brazil, King reimagines Monk tunes with Brazilian rhythms, alongside an A-list of Brazilian-American musicians including Nilson Matta, Chico Pinheiro, Itaiguara Brandão, Mauricio Zottarelli,
Adriano Santos and Anton Denner.
The concept: take the iconic, perennially modern works of Thelonious Monk and combine them with the pulsating, irresistible rhythms of Brazil. It was a brilliant idea just waiting for the right musician to come along and realize it with the necessary combination of inspiration and jazz chops.
Jazz pianist and composer Matt King, winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 2000 and a Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition semi-finalist, was that musician. After all, the project combined two of King’s long-standing passions: Monk and Brazilian music. The result, Monk In Brazil (Mighty Quinn Productions) - subtitled “Re-grooving the music of Thelonious Monk” - refracts the genius of Monk’s music through the rhythms of one of the world’s most musically rich nations, creating a sound that’s bracingly fresh and powerfully seductive.
The key to realizing King’s alchemy of Monk and Brazilian music was recruiting the right musicians – those with feet firmly planted in both worlds. “Some of the top players in the New York area, or the world for that matter, are represented on this album,” King says. “The great bassists Nilson Matta and Itaiguara Brandão, drummers Mauricio Zottarelli and Adriano Santos, and guitarist Chico Pinheiro. I knew I wanted to record with those guys.”
“It’s a great honor and pleasure to play with Matt – he’s a fantastic piano player and this is an amazing CD,” Matta said.
“I always love working with Matt,” Zottarelli said, “but particularly on this project. The way he took Monk’s music and brought it to a Brazilian environment, mixing the two worlds - I think it was a genius idea. Some of these tunes, it’s almost like they were written that way, the way he worked out the arrangements.”
Two amazing and versatile percussionists, Fernando Saci and Emedin Rivera, also were brought onboard, along with the gifted Kahil Nayton, who plays the cavaquinho, the diminutive, ukulele-like guitar that brightly colors Brazilian samba and choro.
“As I was picking tunes and working out the arrangements, I heard various wind instruments,” King said. “Then it occurred to me that there was one guy who could do everything – Anton Denner, my old friend from William Paterson University, who is a fabulous improviser and has unrivaled skills on a whole palette of reeds.” Denner plays alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, piccolo, and alto flute on the disc, earning, as King says, a special designation as the album’s “MVP.”
The album showcases a broad swath of Monk’s compositions, drawing from the entire range of his career. “There are some big Monk hits on the record – ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘Bemsha Swing,’ for example,” King said. “Then there are some more obscure Monk compositions, things that maybe he only recorded only once. Sometimes it was a case of ‘I really like this tune of Monk’s; how can I Brazil-ify it?’ Other times, I was taken with a certain Brazilian groove, and the question was, ‘Can I find a Monk tune that I could plug in there?’”
As for the Brazilian grooves incorporated, samba and bossa nova are well represented, but so are lesser-known ones like baião, maracatu, and frevo. Over the course of 12 tracks, King ingeniously utilizes no less than eight different Brazilian rhythmic styles.
The results are jaw-dropping, ear-expanding, and soul-warming. Even listeners not particularly well-versed in Monk or Brazilian music will be captivated by a series of non-stop highlights: Zottarelli’s explosive drum solos on “Work,” “Played Twice,” and “Let’s Call This;” Matta’s rich bass sound and supple support, paired with Santos’s sensual grooves, on ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘Ugly Beauty’; Pinheiro’s warm, ultra-tasty guitar work on ‘Bemsha Swing’ and ‘Played Twice;’ Denner’s ingenious solos throughout; Brandão’s slinky yet punchy bass lines; and the vivid (and often humorous) soundscapes created by Saci and Rivera in “Crepuscule With Nellie.”
The real star, however, is King, both as keyboard wizard on piano, melodica, and electric piano, and as arranger. His playing ranges from exuberant to introspective, evoking Monk without resorting to overt mimicry, a pitfall for many pianists. Even while incorporating some of the master’s keyboard idiosyncrasies – spiky intervals, crunchy chords, whole-tone scales – King still remains very much his own man musically, with his own distinctive voice. The arrangements illuminate and honor the musical souls of both Monk and Brazil in a way that is novel yet feels organic and inevitable.
Matt King has performed and recorded with many renowned jazz artists including Chris Potter, Rufus Reid, Billy Hart, Dave Stryker, Benny Golson, Charles McPherson, Vic Juris, Joe Morello, Blood Sweat & Tears, and the late jazz guitar master Chuck Loeb, for whom he also served as musical director. On the Brazilian side, he has played with many noted Brazilian musicians including Matta, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, and singer
King has appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America, performed with four symphony orchestras, and played at festivals worldwide, including the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, as well as at countless other venues throughout the U.S. and more than 20 countries abroad. In the New York area, he has appeared at Lincoln Center, Birdland, The Blue Note, The Iridium, Smoke, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), and the Beacon Theater.
King began his piano studies at age 5, and was playing professionally by age 14. He attended the University of Illinois as a classical music major before relocating to the New York area, where he earned his degree in Jazz Studies & Performance from William Paterson University in NJ. He has received numerous awards and grants for his playing, composing, and arranging, including a composition fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts. He was a Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition semi-finalist, and the winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 2000.