Charlin Jazz Society's tribute to Thelonious Monk at the Ethical Society Saturday night was symbolic of the unpredictable nature of his compositional style.
Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who logged many hours on the bandstand with Monk, handled with sensitivity and authority the allusive melodies of the late pianist-composer. Favoring the upper range and a soft, vibratoless timbre and occasionally dipping into the belly of his instrument, he invested "Ruby My Dear," "Nutty," "Light Blue" and other classics by Monk's hand with passion and easy familiarity.
The unenviable task of filling Monk's shoes fell to pianist Charles Covington. The dissonance, limping time and disjointed phrasing sometimes sounded awkward, but that was due more to the idiosyncrasy of Monk's pianistic approach than to any shortcoming on the part of Covington, who held up well under self-defeating circumstances. Bassist Keter Betts and drummer Dude Brown supplied appropriately brittle rhythm.
The happenstance of a broken saxophone strap and the resulting damage to his horn removed Rouse from the action early in the second set. Happily, vocalist Ernie Andrews was in the audience and filled the breach with a transfixing vocalise on " 'Round Midnight" that climbed from barrel-bottom bass to clarion call peaks, more vocalise on some Charlie Parker tunes, and a blues that recreated with uncanny precision the voices and mannerisms of Walter Brown, Jimmy Rushing and others.