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The New Cool: MAST Takes Monk to Space

Hand painted by Tokio Aoyama.
The gorgeous hand painted cover art to the new Monk tribute from multi-instrumentalist MAST.

Multi-instrumentalist Tim Conley, performing as MAST, has just released a new collection of Thelonious Monk tunes. "Another one?" I hear you saying. Well, this collection of Monk tunes, simply titled Thelonious Sphere Monk, takes the jazz giant's music to wild electronic destinations. Thankfully, to a Monk fan like me, it really works.

A Los Angeles transplant from Philadelphia, Tim Conley calls himself a jazz musician and electronic musician equally. His solo project (often with guests) combines electronic rhythms with live instrumentation, channeled through live performance with plenty of in-the-moment improvisation.

Thelonious Sphere Monk is a wild ride. MAST is bringing these jazz classics "into the future using modern electronic bleeps, bloops, and beats....each track created is a unique world unto itself and the listener travels from one musical planet to the next on the spaceship Monk."

Talented special guests are added with more traditional solos atop the electronic soundscape. Dan Rosenboom, Gavin Templeton and Jonah Levine blow trumpet, saxes and trombone forcefully on six songs. Pianist Brian Marsella rises to the occasion as the lone pianist on three Monk classics. Modern jazz sax star Chris Speed is well featured on a spooky version of "Well, You Needn't" that wouldn't sound out of place in the new Blade Runner film.

Conley himself plays guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizers, programs drums and produced the album. It's exciting from front to back, never takes the material less than seriously, but has plenty of joy and humor.

Whether under a blanket of drone or barreling at breakneck speed with pummeling percussion, the power of Monk's iconic and idiosyncratic melodies are always in the forefront. That's a testament to the talent and taste of MAST/Conley, and to the enduring magic of Thelonious Sphere Monk.

On this week's show, you'll hear MAST's version of "Nutty", featuring Rosenboom, Templeton, and Chicago drummer Makaya Craven. In a nod to the appeal to both young jazz novices and older purists, a recording of Monk himself opens the song saying, "I like to reach everybody, the public and the musicians. You know, that's a standard I set for my songs...something that will get to the people's ear, plus no criticism from the musicians."

This week's New Cool also includes the latest from sax man Chris Potter, Northwest musicians Duende Libre, Cecil Moses & the SGs, Skerik with Omaha Diner, and KNKX studio session exclusives from GoGo Penguin and the Kyle Eastwood Band. Pass it on!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5p, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.