Mast, aka LA-based instrumentalist Tim Conley, is releasing a modern tribute album reimaging classics by jazz great Theolonious Monk, and today we’re premiering one of the many collabs off his record, “Let’s Cool One” featuring Makaya McCraven and Jonah Levine. Listen above.
Mast explains a little bit about what was going on in his head when he decided to make this record. “When I was starting to conceptualize making a Thelonious Monk album I thought a lot about his life as a musician, his compositions, his piano style and what all those things meant to me,” he said. “How I wanted to embody and celebrate his body of work but also take it to a new place; not just do another Thelonious Monk tribute album which has been done a gazillion times before, but create something totally new that pushes boundaries and explores new sonic territories performed at a high level of musicianship all with a Thelonious Monk palette to paint with.”
As a jazz drummer McCraven explains how Mast’s use of the surreal appeals to him as a collaborator.
“Mast is dope, I like working with Tim,” McCraven said. “He has a really great way of integrating the real and surreal in terms of playing and electronics. I think this project is a cool bridge musically speaking but also by paying homage to those who inspired us to break boundaries and bringing that legacy to a new and different generation of music lovers. Monk’s music is in your face yet beautiful, beat-driven, yet chill, at times abrasive yet accessible. He was inside and outside. He was an extremely important voice in music who dared to be different. I think that legacy is important to keep in mind these days and is a constant inspiration for me and my work.”
For his part Levine, who was recently featured on Jay-Z’s Grammy-nominated 4:44 album playing trombone, said that Monk is one of his favorite composers, but Mast’s take on the song was still very distinct.
“Thelonious Monk is likely my favorite jazz composer so when Tim asked me to jump on his album I was quick to say yes,” Levine said. “We knocked out most of the tunes in a couple of hours and just had a good time hanging at the studio. Some of these songs I have been playing since I started learning jazz but every arrangement Tim played for me was wildly different than I had ever heard before. He really put a unique and personal spin on music that already has such a strong vibe. Excited to be a part of a truly great record that not only honors one of the most important musicians to have ever lived but does so in a unique and refreshing way.”
With these two involved, Mast was able to bring to life one of his favorite Monk tunes, which he describes as slightly sarcastic.
“‘Lets Cool One’ was on my short list of tunes that I knew I wanted to tackle before I started the Monk project,” he explained. “As deep and beautiful as all of Monk’s work is, I always feel like there is a sarcasm to his compositions. So an earlier demo version I recorded was intentionally sarcastic, quirky and incorporated only electronics, no live playing, lots of bleeps and blips instead of what would traditionally be drums or a beat. But the more I toyed around with it the more I started to hear live drums and horns.
“Specifically, Makaya doing his “Makaya” thing on top and Jonah playing the melody and soloing over the form. Jonah came through and slayed all over it, and once I dropped Makaya’s drums on the track it was instantly propelled into the omniverse! I eventually recorded some heavy Rhodes keyboards and distorted bass at my home studio but kept a lot of the bleeps and blips from my demo. You can hear the remnants of the original “quirky version” on the first few seconds of the version that made the record.”
Theolonious Sphere Monk is out 1/26 on World Galaxy Records, an imprint of Alpha Pup Records. Pre-order it here.