In the 80s, the band engendered a cagey slant on mainstream swing and then morphed into the risk-taking New York downtown scene, eventually garnering widespread attention and sell-out crowds at the Knitting Factory and other hip venues. They regrouped in 2006, carrying the torch for what has become a singular sound, ingrained in classic jazz stylizations, bop, funk, and the free-jazz domain. Known for its quirky deviations, razor-sharp horns arrangements and melodic hooks, the septet's spunkiness and tightknit overtures align with the stars on Manhattan Moonrise.
Very few jazz composers have experienced the extremes of acceptance and rejection that were Thelonious Monk's lot. Ignored and rejected early in his career – in part for the oblique weirdness of his piano style, in part for the difficulty and angularity of his compositions, and in part because he was quite clearly mentally ill – he did at least live to see his music given the appreciation it deserved, and his work has only grown in esteem since his death in 1982. Today, his pieces are among the most frequently performed and recorded of any jazz composer; as popularity among musicians goes, his music is on the same level as that of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.
The Microscopic Septet had been disbanded for quite a few years by the time a pair of twin CD reissue compilations appeared on the Cuneiform label in 2006, prompting a brief reunion of the group to support sales. The musicians had so much fun that they decided to get together again to record a few of the many compositions that the band played during its existence, reuniting pianist Joel Forrester, soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston, alto saxophonist Don Davis, baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson, bassist David Hofstra, and drummer Richard Dworkin, with the one new addition being tenor saxophonist Mike Hashim.
A nearly brassless little big band and a guitarless R&B group all at the same time, the Microscopic Septet was to the 1980s New York Downtown scene something of what the Art Ensemble of Chicago was to its own home town. Both bands were steeped in and respectful of the jazz tradition, but both deconstructed, recalibrated, juggled and played around with its component parts to create affectionate, often witty new amalgams of the old—and intimations of the future. The two-disc Seven Men In Neckties collects the Micros' immortal, mind-expanding but long unavailable, first two albums—Take The Z Train (Press Records, 1983) and the live Let's Flip! (Osmosis Records, 1985)—along with previously unissued, contemporaneous material.
The quirky music of the Microscopic Septet defies classification, other than it is swinging jazz blended with R&B and a host of other influences, full of twists and turns, yet remaining very catchy and accessible. Their debut LP originally came out on the Press label and was finally reissued as a Koch CD in 1998. Much like the musicians that made up Spike Jones' City Slickers in the 1940s, only some very talented players could follow these demanding charts; yet unlike the comparison to Jones' records, there is nothing that is obviously or purely cornball about this music.