It's been four years since Amanda Monaco 4 released its self-titled debut, although guitarist Monaco has been far from inactive. She's appeared on Get Lucky (Eastway, 2004), the second album by all-female cocktail pop band The Lascivious Biddies, published an instructional guitar book, Jazz Guitar for the Absolute Beginner (Alfred Publishing, 2005) and is in a new jazz group, Playdate, along with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery.
Intention builds on the successes of the quartet's debut, placing an even more modern spin on a number of traditional reference points. Monaco remains a spare guitarist, far more interested in developing strong melodies and curious harmonies than overtly displaying the chops she clearly possesses. Saxophonist Jason Gillenwater is an equally focused player, while the rhythm section team of bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Jeff Davis is flexible enough to handle Monaco's far-reaching compositions.
The title track is a darkly lyrical ballad, filled with space. Monaco's solo is as much about what's not there as what is, a slowly evolving melody that builds towards Gillenwater's solo with the layering of slight dissonances that add to its brooding nature. Both Monaco and Gillenwater may play economically, but they're rarely predictable.
"Tel Aviv I Love Her is another ballad, this time with a middle eastern sensibility that's enhanced by Gillenwater's move to clarinet. Demonstration that everyone is approaching the material with the same aesthetic, Hollins takes a lithe but spartan solo that's a robust-toned setup for Monaco's evocative turn.
"Tel Aviv segues into "Procrastination, a more angular piece that shows Monaco's growth as a writer. A cued tune where melodic passages are interspersed with brief moments of jagged freedom fueled by Monaco's distorted tone, it results in a curious blend of form and freedom. While Monaco writes, in the liner notes, that this was really meant to be the second page of "Intention, it's hard to see how the two would go together as a single composition.
Equally, it's hard to imagine "Old Skool Flava as a tune originally written for The Lascivious Biddies. The 5/4 vamp carried by Hollins and Davis acts as foundation for a melody that combines close voicing and unison playing from Monaco and Gillenwater as the saxophonist takes his most frenzied solo of the set, with Monaco demonstrating equal abandon in a duo with Davis. The slow funk of the hip hop middle section only seems paradoxical until it seamlessly segues back to the initial theme, ending on an abrupt note.
Intention is everything you'd like to see in a sophomore release: capitalizing on the successes of the first release, it also demonstrates considerable growth for the quartet in general and Monaco in particular. Greater idiosyncrasies are paired with the guitarist's inherent lyricism, resulting in a record that delivers on the promise of the debut, while auguring even greater things for the next go-round.
Personnel: Amanda Monaco: guitar; Jason Gillenwater: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Fraser Hollins: acoustic bass; Jeff Davis: drums.