Disc Review: “Descargas for Monk” by Alex Conde

Cover Art

By Ernest Barteldes

On this tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk, Bay-area pianist Alex Conde brings the music of the late composer into the world of flamenco.  He doesn’t, however, simply Latinize the music (like many have done before him to various degrees of success) but instead takes the music to a different place on a brilliant album that was partly financed by crowdsourcing.

“Played Twice” begins with flamenco percussion followed by Conde’s fluid, syncopated piano lines. The highly uptempo arrangement is quite simple, featuring just the bandleader, percussionist John Santos and bassist Jeff Chambers. The tune gives Conde ample opportunity to improvise and interact with the percussion in an incredible manner. The music is complemented by foot stomps and handclaps by Amparo Conde and Carmen Carrasco, who fill a lot of the song’s open spaces. “Think of One” is played with an accomplished Latin feel at first, but then evolves into more of a contemporary jazz direction, with the rhythm section formed by Chambers and drummer Jon Arkin with a brilliant solo piano middle section.

Though I have heard countless takes on “Round Midnight” (one of my all-time favorites being Bobby McFerrin’s recording for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name). On his version, he begins with a classically-inspired solo intro and then continues solo, playing with a flamenco tempo on his left hand while taking some improvised notes around the melody after playing the head. I also enjoyed “Evidence,” here given an Afro-Cuban feel with the full quartet.

It is sad (at least for me) that most of his upcoming gigs are in the West Coast – would love to hear this in a live format. I think I will start planning a trip out west sometime soon – there is plenty of interesting music going on out there these days.

Check Alex Conde at http://www.alexconde.com/

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