Musical oddballs, unite: Fellaheen, Thelonious Monk and Daunielle

There’s a strange bird maturing in New Jersey. Its name is Bruce.

“You Either Get Hands Or Get Wings” (EGADS Music) by Fellaheen starts out on a Tom Waits/Leonard Cohen note with “Your Folly And Mine.”

Fellaheen Bruce Hanson publicity photoBacked by accordion, percussion, guitar, drums, bass and his own banjo, the ever-ingenious Bruce Hanson is the fella in Fellaheen. Add the soprano saxophone of Matt Clauhs for even more coloration on “Pomegranate Heart” and we’re off on this mystery tour to discover the ever-widening cracks within the universal subconscious.

How did he get such an odd name for an album?

“Last summer,” explains Hanson, “I was sitting in a street café in Rome. There was a pigeon near my table, with a piece of string wrapped around its foot. It was pecking at the string feverishly, trying to free itself of it. My drinking companion observed, `I bet that pigeon wishes it had hands right about now.’ I replied, with a little chianti-inspired wit, ‘Well, you either get hands or get wings.’ And the waitress goes, ‘Oooooh.’”

Violins, cello and viola alter the lunar landscape on the title tune. A pedal steel makes “Kiss You Goodnight” country but when you add that accordion, Hanson’s resigned world-weary lyrics sung in that gravelly dirt-road of a voice, it becomes so much more.

Influences? You can start with Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, Mose Allison, Howlin’ Wolf and Randy Newman but, dare I say, Bruce Hanson is one uniquely gifted eccentric. (www.fellaheen.com)

MonkThelonious Monk is in “Paris 1969” (Blue Note) on this supremely transcendent CD/DVD. The  black’n’white film portion of this treasure of a package has never been officially released. It comes as something of a revelation as it shows his late-career brilliance. Monk suffered mightily from a plethora of health problems both physical and mental. He also suffered from people just not getting him, thinking him too avant-garde in his early years and too traditional in his later years. The slings and arrows of critical know-it-alls bothered him incessantly. And they were all wrong! Monk played piano to his own inner bodily rhythms. Music teachers will tell you NOT to play piano like that! He twitched, he karate-chopped the keyboard, he would actually dance around his instrument, and he was oftentimes totally misunderstood. Yet it is his idiosyncratic oddities that are the stuff of his legend, thus his music remains to this day eminently listenable and challenging, vital decades after his fact.

I couldn’t put his biography—”The Life And Times Of An American Original”—by Robin D.G. Kelley, down. Kelley provides insightful liner notes here. Monk was 52 in ’69. He hadn’t achieved success until his forties. Rock’n’roll—including jazz/rock fusion—was pushing him down again. His longtime bandmates—drummer Ben Riley and bassist Larry Gales—had left. He quickly got saxman Charlie Rouse to rejoin him but had to rely on 17-year old drummer Paris Wright and new bassist Nate Hygelund. Monk compositions are, to put it bluntly, hard-as-hell to negotiate. They’re filled with oddball stops and starts, even odder time signatures and they’re also subject to the whim of the pianist’s moods. But by the time the band hit France, after lengthy stays in England, Germany and Italy, this was one smokin’ unit! Monk Classics like “”I Mean You,” “Straight No Chaser” and “Blue Monk” highlighted a set that also included solo piano performances on “Don’t Blame Me,” “I Love You Sweetheart Of My Dreams” and “Crepuscule With Nellie.” Then, and this is a transcendent moment, Philly Joe Jones, living in Paris as an ex-patriot, climbed on stage, a total surprise, and took the drums for “Nutty.”

Daunielle Back Cover Photo by Carl Smith Finally, Daunielle’s self-titled soul bash on Catfood Records has her covering Jackie Wilson (“Higher & Higher”) amidst nine originals by her and her Texas blues band. It’s a funky good time complete with keyboards, accordion, drums, bass, guitar, sax, trumpet, trombone and extra percussion. She’s got a full-throated gospel-tinged sledgehammer of a voice so when she opens her mouth…you listen…repeatedly.

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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