Joe Milazzo

From Crepuscule W/Nellie (Jaded Ibis Press, November 2014)

JZLM16 (Monaural Master / Take #12)

Monk plays and John listens. It is all new, but Monk’s playing most so. Monk’s new composition commences with an entirely impromptu blue lick played almost into parody. Its tonal center almost splits into a clash as the notes descend the mournful length of the prefatory melody. In it, John can hear the cast iron plate hovering over the piano’s tonewood, the spruce he used to conceive of as the instrument’s soul, only now he feels his notions diverting. Wouldn’t a body, even one unseen, resonate more? His new tenor, does it take to its idleness? Monk paces out the lick again, bending every note. And John continues, not knowing how or what to play. And John is lulled even more, by this start of song but by the haze accentuating the proximities of dusk within the apartment. In a sudden something, there is a crashing of pitches, then Nellie pushing back the door.

Oblongs of wan illumination cross those richer shades that have been filtered through the glass of her window onto stacks and crumbs. Nellie is entering—and the riff is just then spiked with unpremeditated dissonance. John sees Monk jolted out of his hands at the sound of the apartment’s aperture choking open to admit his wife, a scent whose pungency John cannot quite place (although he knows it is clean), the hall, the not-so distant clamor of Monk’s neighbors also coming home. Yet Monk’s muff somehow makes sense, it is not hectic, rowdydowdy, John can sense that immediately. Monk plays it all—the oddment of blues, the hesitation, his wife’s aleatoric contribution—again, halts, and suddenly turns sideways on his bench, craning over in a scramble for quick notation. Monk upsets some funny pages pooling with Silly Putty and a steel-strung ukelele with the white hibiscus painted on its face so that some outer petals and the tip of the stamen brush the sounding hole. He reaches not his portfolio but a glass-less picture frame, the kind you stand up on a dresser or mantel, that at first appears to be empty. But Monk pops something free. A card, not the icy blue of SOCIAL SECURITY, but orange, and with Monk’s name nearly obscured by an almost legible brownish smear reading REVOKED. Monk takes the card and places it on the piano’s otherwise vacant music rack. The cardboard backing in the frame now shows, and to John, where it is untouched, which is all over, it is raisin-y, speckled. Monk fishes a yellowish-brownish (“Maize”) crayon out of his inside breast pocket as Nellie approaches the near wall. She rips down the calendar. She does not pick it up either, from where it plops face-down on the green warp and blue weft, overlapping in midnight checks, of a bathrobe’s incidental tartan, piled there between the calendar and the floor’s defiling. Monk writes, and keeps writing, and John tries not to be startled, but he is.

Nellie drags towards the kitchenette. To put leftovers on? Nellie has no energy to scowl as she glances back, roughly in their direction. (John wonders what direction really means in Monk’s apartment). Monk still scribbling horizontal lines, John wisely—so Nellie agrees—swallows his greeting. I’ve seen you in your night clothes. Damn. Haven’t I?

Monk props up his notes. Nellie has returned along her supper-ward route and now takes her routine place at the window, waiting for this urban sunset to finish off the warm, dry day that has finally come. Monk hums his stuttering line once, nods with cute finality, stares up at John with a prompting roll of his eyes. John takes his eyes off of Nellie, his only eyes. Monk pushes John’s horn up to his mouth.

— Fractional. All of it. Bear in mind, bearcat. Fractional.

John opens. Monk hammers out that down-in-the-dumps contraction. This time, Monk slows the aspects down. John plays those first five notes, and his version struggles to lift off in a momentum appropriately contra- Monk. Repeating, Monk includes—too rapidly for John yet, who blats a tenor pejorative — that jarring ba-da-da-DOMP in the progression. The ba-da-da-DOMP is reiterated, Monk accents the composite of beats by wobbling his head at a reduced rate, his lips pinioning his tongue fast. ba- da-da-DOMP: Monk plays it so methodically, in a sort of non-tempo, with such misanthropic clarity that salad bowl clatters quietly against the tall glass mottled cream inside with the dehydrated foam of the Ballentine that Monk favors but Nellie will not buy except when it has been put on special, and a fork unglued from mayonnaise crustings makes a sympathetically sterling echo in the recess of a plate. Monk stops, hands raised, just as John licks the corners of his mouth.

— Hold up.

Monk budges his head back, as if he were canting some immobile feature straight to the ceiling. But John feels Monk is leaning back far enough to look at his wife. Just briefly.

— OK. All right. Hold up.

Still leaning like so, almost in a pose of rapture or supplication except his eyes are wide, Monk plays what must follow the ba-da-da-DOMP. He builds down or backwards ( John can’t decide, not like this, still getting acquainted with this tenor, on the spot) to where the first phrase might have led until Nellie exerted her abrupt concision upon it. Monk comes again to a now- modified ba-da-da-DOMP. This rhythmic anomaly is now all the things this tune could have been had Monk sought it—John hears it, I hear it, man, I hear [italicize this “hear”] it—sought it and impelled its aberrations towards other resolutions. Monk plays again, easing. Monk toppl