If you were unaware of Clarence Penn's sharp, creative work with trumpeter Dave Douglas, or his years of empathetic, intelligent playing as a member of Maria Schneider's orchestra, you could be forgiven for assuming that Monk: The Lost Files
was one too many recordings of Thelonious Monk classics. Penn's audacious interpretation of "Well You Needn't" quickly lays any reservations to rest. All stuttering beats and slippery electronics, with some spoken word thrown in for good measure, the opening song signals the drummer's intentions to reinterpret Monk as 21st'century material. His title alludes to a computer glitch that left him panicked, thinking he had lost the 2012 session altogether. And if that opening salvo is not enough to convince you that this is Monk like you have not heard him before, check out Donald Vega's first non-electric piano solo on "Green Chimney." No sooner does it start - sounding like any modern acoustic interpretation of Monk - than it is yanked away electronically, a slur of melting notes. Taking such liberties with Monk will not please purists, but Penn's approach has solid footing: using well-known thematic riffs as cells that can be chopped up, carried by Chad Lefkowitz-Brown's sax or Yasushi Nakamura's bass, or simply implied. If this makes it sound like some sort of postmodern intellectual exercise, that's not the case. In the hands of Penn's quartet, Monk comes off sounding like dance music, in much the same way that Jason Moran re-channels Fats Waller classics.