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CD/LP/Track Review

Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project (2012)

By Published: January 14, 2012
Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project Jimmy Owens' tribute to the indomitable music of Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
is a luxurious road trip that travels on smooth roads once precarious and quite perilous. His septet, an experienced large/small ensemble, glides almost effortlessly through the opulence of this music.

The ease in which these musicians maneuver through the nine Monk compositions, plus Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," is a testament to their talents, but more so to Owens' deft arrangements. Owens pronounces Monk's music approachable, congenial and quite user-friendly.

The often thorny "Epistrophy," a left-handed compliment of a song, is played as a "jang-jang" bluesy railroad swinger, with almost a country and western tilt. Howard Johnson sets aside his tuba for baritone saxophone, gliding a solo above the engine pulse propulsion of drummer Winard Harper
Winard Harper
Winard Harper
b.1962
drums
and bassist Kenny Davis
Kenny Davis
Kenny Davis
b.1961
bass, acoustic
. Each musician—including the always flawless trombonist Wycliffe Gordon
Wycliffe Gordon
Wycliffe Gordon
b.1967
trombone
and saxophonist Marcus Strickland
Marcus Strickland
Marcus Strickland

saxophone
—solos before pianist Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
warms the melody with seeming informality. Gone are the pregnant pauses and hesitant gestures of Monk interpreters like Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy
1934 - 2004
sax, soprano
and Misha Mengelberg
Misha Mengelberg
Misha Mengelberg
b.1935
piano
.

The music recalls the earlier work of Barron and his Monk tribute band Sphere, which he co-led with bassist Buster Williams
Buster Williams
Buster Williams
b.1942
bass
and former Monk sidemen, saxophonist Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
1924 - 1988
sax, tenor
and drummer Ben Riley
Ben Riley
Ben Riley
b.1933
drums
. Like Owens, Barron infuses his Monk, not as the crazy sorcerer, but as a bluesy melody maker. "Brilliant Corners" is slowed to a stop/start wriggle, its quirk swapped for the blues, almost to announce a new and listener-friendly translation. The same goes for the difficult "Let's Cool One," that is choreographed in a more introspect way, changing the tempo from 4/4 to 3/4 time.

Owens' tribute to Monk is a craftsman's project, making beautiful what was once foreign and undomesticated. Monk purists may scoff, but fans of gorgeous music will exalt.


Track Listing: Bright Mississippi; Well You Needn't; Blue Monk; Stuffy Turkey; Pannonica; Let's Cool One; It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); Brilliant Corners; Reflections; Epistrophy.

Personnel: Jimmy Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone; Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone saxophone; Kenny Barron: piano: Kenny Davis: bass; Winard Harper: drums.

Record Label: IPO Recordings

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream



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