The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band's concert at George Mason University Friday night promised more than it could deliver.
Billed as "Music of Thelonious Monk: A New Perspective," the program opened with an enjoyable but hardly innovative collection of small-group performances of the late pianist and composer's work. Six members of the large ensemble, including trumpeter and band leader Jon Faddis, trombonist Slide Hampton, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and pianist Renee Rosnes, spent the opening set interpreting "Misterioso," "Four in One," "Hackensack" and other Monk compositions with a casual ease. Plenty of room was carved out for round-robin soloing, and while some of the improvisations were inspired, the tunes unfolded in a rather predictable manner.
The second half of the concert was far more memorable, thanks to several striking big-band arrangements. None was more challenging or colorful than the fulgent reworking of "Trinkle Tinkle." The scoring for brass and reeds brilliantly illuminated the tune's harmonically jagged contours and took full advantage of the ensemble's wonderfully cohesive horn section. "Little Rootie Tootie," a treat devised by Hampton, also illustrated the band's blaring power and nimble agility. Ted Rosenthal contributed a torchy arrangement of "Ruby My Dear," which seemed tailored to fit singer Vivian Cherry's soulful and sultry alto.
Other pieces demonstrated Faddis's crackling virtuosity, Rosnes' lyrical ingenuity and tenor saxophonist Frank Wess's seasoned tone, and reasserted the power of the ensemble's first-rated horn and rhythm sections. Yet in the end, the band's "new perspective" on Monk's music yielded few surprises or revelations.