Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week, with battles in the Round of 32 daily. Keep up with all the action here.
Monk handily dispatched TV On The Radio, and he now moves on to face a surprisingly ascendant Norah Jones, who pitched off No. 7 seed Laurie Anderson. Can her jazz-pop fusion eject another giant of American art music from the tournament?
Thelonious Monk: “Crepuscule With Nellie”
The song is like Monk himself: unsettled, ineffable in its beauty, and indisputably genius. Monk didn’t do the fiery iconoclasm of Miles or the grand effusiveness of Coltrane; what he was after, and what he captured here, was a way for the physicality of his playing (pounds, stops, the body always present) to conjure the raptures he yearned for. “Crepuscule” is a love song for his wife tied up in fear that she would die during a medical procedure, and you hear that unmistakably.
Norah Jones: “Chasing Pirates”
Though Come Away With Me and “Don’t Know Why” were monsters, at this point in her career Jones’s importance seems less about a single song or album and more about her continued presence in pop culture. It’s her adventurousness in trying on different styles and formats, her excitement about collaborating with other artists, her versatility in doing all of those things well. That’s why “Chasing Pirates” stands for Jones at her best. It’s a little bit Foster the People, a little bit Tori Amos, and a little bit Roberta Flack. The song isn’t trying too hard, and it isn’t obvious why it should work. It just does.
Longevity: To her credit, Jones has admirably ducked the Grammy curse for a ten-year career that shows no sign of slowing down. Unfortunately, she’s going up against Monk, a giant of American music. His Q score is lower, but Jones would probably agree that he’s got the longevity edge.
Starpower: Jones is unquestionably the bigger star right now—she’s got a new album with Danger Mouse coming out in May—and has the more dedicated fanbase, especially among people who vote in online polls. Monk is more of a shadow presence in American culture. It’s no accident that, on The Love Below, Andre 3000 covered Coltrane, but dressed like Monk.
Intangibles: Jones is the George Clooney of pop: maybe you can’t point to one single thing that she’s done as a masterpiece, but she just seems like so much fun to work with. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with her?
Likely winner: Norah Jones would probably tell you to vote for Monk.