Both as part of the band Sons of Kemet and on his own, tuba player and composer Theon Cross is at the cutting edge of the British progressive jazz movement that’s been making waves over the last few years. Now he’s premiered a piece that applies his innovative approach to a true jazz classic: Thelonious Monk’s evergreen bebop tune “Epistrophy.”
Cross cut his version of the legendary Monk composition for the upcoming compilation album Blue Note Re:Imagined II. Like the first volume, it gathers up contemporary U.K. artists who mix jazz with everything from electronica to R&B and lets them loose on classic tunes from the iconic Blue Note Records catalog. Last time around, the gang included the Cross cohorts like Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings. This time, artists like Ego Ella May and Reuben James will be along for the ride.
Like so many of Monk’s tunes, “Epistrophy” is an entrancingly knotty affair to begin with, full of unexpected harmonic twists and turns. But when Cross gets his hands on it, “Epistrophy” evolves into something that would have even been beyond the wildest dreams of the visionary Monk. In the clip below, Cross speaks to his song choice.
With his larger-than-life tuba tones to the fore, Cross doesn’t merely cover the tune, he deconstructs it and reinvents it, creating a strangely thrilling new paradigm in the process. At first you may not even recognize “Epistrophy” as the song Monk wrote with drummer Kenny Clarke back in 1941. But eventually that unmistakable melody kicks in, and when it does, the frisson that occurs between the source and the places Cross takes the tune makes the end result all the more exciting.
Remember, that’s only one track on the album, which is scheduled for release on September 30. Just imagine how many other surprises will be waiting for you once the record arrives.