Sunday, February 05, 2012

Tune of the moment: Misterioso

Thelonious Monk's Misterioso is a strangely beguiling little tune:

It's a slow blues, with a melody of running even 8th notes. That doesn't sound hard. Except somewhere in the playing of it, it always goes a little fishy. When I say slow blues, you of course immediately put a strong triplet feel into your time:

Which feels wrong because the rest of the band is playing off of the straight 8ths, with a double time feel. So you match that interpretation:

Still not right; the hihat on 2 and 4 feels a little silly. There's more momentum than that suggests, and you feel you're missing the boat. So you put the hihat on the &s, finally getting to the common groove for the tune- sort of a double time two feel, but not quite. Going into the fast two sounds too busy- you need to keep the slow four on the cymbal:

After eight measures or so this starts to reveal the deficiencies in your 'in two' playing. Over the course of the tune, you're not able to deliver your idea of modern levels of business, or build to a satisfying climax, and this is unsettling to you. The uncertainty of it all is compounded by the other musicians, who- despite what I said earlier- will be confused about where to put it; at least there will be a variety of interpretations present. You feel that at least one person is looking askance at you for not playing it his way. Most of them will play some version of double time; maybe the bassist will obstinately play the triplets; during the solo the saxophonist will play double time on the double time. It always feels like it wants to be someplace else. Even if you are able to hang with the original feel, in all likelihood one or more of the soloists aren't going to be able carry it, and it will- curiously- invert the process of rigor mortis by stiffening and then dying.

So what do you do with it? Some solutions, and more recordings after the break:

First, embrace the uncertainty, and release some of your need to make a big drumming performance out of it. Instead, just play with the thing. Changing feels slightly (or not-so-slightly) between soloists, or between choruses of the same soloist, is one thing you can do. During the course of the tune, there's room to play any and all of the interpretations above, plus a straight double time feel, plus, well, whatever you can get away with- suggestions of double time Afro-Cuban, slow funk, fast "drum & bass"... whatever is not going to get you fired.

You can work on your comping within the "standard" feel of the tune by running the common Reed/Syncopation interpretations with this cymbal/hh pattern, swinging the 8th notes (I'll make a stand-alone post out of this sometime soon):

You can take Art Blakey's polyrhythmic approach from the Sonny Rollins recording above. During the head he fills out the sixtuplets:

He then adds the 8th note triplets on the hihat:

Or 8th note triplets with the left hand (you'll hear him move these around the drums at a phrase ending):

Some more examples: Here Roy Haynes plays it fairly straight, as the modified two:

The original recording of the tune, with Shadow Wilson on drums:

In this loose version Paul Motian plays mostly the fast 2:

Another example:

Some Belgian musicians playing at a great club in Ghent:

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