Carmen Staaf says she feels self-indulgent when she plays the compositions of Thelonious Monk. Something about enjoying yourself too much. It feels so good to her to inhabit his world that perhaps she can forget about communicating something new. Carmen doesn’t need to worry. What shines through on Monk’s “Pannonica,” the sole cover on the record, is the revelry and playfulness that she brings to her interpretation of the piece. She’s luxuriating in there. In fact, there’s that feeling throughout this record. You can hear it, perhaps most clearly on the opening track Caterpillars. A freely improvised romp, it’s almost giddy with freedom and the joy of shared expression.
Jeff Williams and Michael Formanek are, of course, giants of this scene. Both are composers and band leaders with decades of experience and band mates that could fill a Hall of Fame. You can hear their joy, too. I might be projecting here, but it sounds almost like the joy of discovery. I remember them grinning at each other through the glass at the recording studio at the end of another buoyant take, almost as if asking each other, “are you hearing this?”
I started writing these liner notes in that same spirit of joy–I have the record spinning loud at the moment. And I’m thrilled by it, again. This record was recorded almost a year ago, but it seems much longer than that. We are currently four months into the covid-19 shut down. Four months backdropped by persistent hum of anxiety and despair. Four months without human touch. For many, many people, four months filled with unspeakable tragedy and hardship. Also, four months without live music or any communal gathering around the arts. As dark as this feels at the moment, right now I’m reminded again of why I love music and why I love music like this especially.
There are layers upon layers of communication. We know that verbal expression is just the skin on the milk. We all crave something deeper. When a band unites the way that Carmen, Michael and Jeff do, it sings of a profound connection. It can reach through a stereo or even a zoom meeting, grab you by the lapels and say, “There is something MORE in this world.” It gives me hope. We are all in this together. Here’s the proof.
– Elan Mehler