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Tony Monaco: Celebration

Hrayr Attarian By

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If organists Shirley Scott and Jimmy Smith had formed some sort of a musical union, the offspring would no doubt have been Tony Monaco. Manifesting the melodicism of the former, the orchestral sensibilities of the latter and virtuosity of both, Monaco has become one of the most versatile and dazzling performers on the Hammond B3.

The limited edition two-CD Celebration, on Monaco's own Chicken Coop label finds The organist in the company of various collaborators and in a number of different settings, ranging from sparse trio to jubilant choir of voices. It allows him to demonstrate his unique adroitness and talent in a number of styles and sub genres.

On the bossa nova, "Happy Sergio," his intensely melodic, clean and light organ is matched well with Ken Fowser's smooth, Latin sounding tenor saxophone, with just enough vibrato to keep things interesting. Meanwhile on the soul-jazz "Bull Years," Monaco's down-home greasy organ, fleshed out with complex arpeggios and self-accompanied walking bass lines, is met with Fowser's gritty, wailing tenor all over a bed of Jason Brown's propulsive drumming.

Outside of the familiar trio format Monaco duets with pianist Asako Itoh on the R&B-informed "You Rock My World (Asako)." The piano/organ combo similar to the 1961 recordings of Les McCann and Richard "Groove" Holmes is original enough to keep this otherwise smooth jazz tune, engaging. Monaco showcases his vocal skills on the song "Called Love," backed by drummer Reggie Jackson and guitarist Derek DiCenzo. Elsewhere, the heavily spiritual "Unresolved" features Monaco's classically influenced organ echoing as if in a cavernous church, while on the traditional gospel "Just Give Thanks and Praise," he maintains the same level of pious devotement while he backs the heavenly vocals of Mary McClendo and the Columbus Choir Singers.

If the first disc was a demonstration of his versatility then the second is a testament to his tremendous skills as an instrumentalist. Starting with "Backward Shack," based on Jimmy Smith's iconic "Back at the Chicken Shack," the record becomes more cohesively built around slow cooking grooves and red hot and hard-swinging solos.

"Yah Bay BEE," with its harmonic and rhythmic structure together with the inclusion of Kenny Rampton's trumpet, is reminiscent of Lou Donaldson's 1967 Blue Note classic, Alligator Boogaloo. The funky, live "Takin' My Time" with guitarist Robert Kraut, is colored in the shades of late night trysts. Another live track, the tight and bluesy "Slow Down Sagg," features Monaco's most advanced improvisations, without losing his earthy, rollicking rhythm.

This release may be Monaco's most definitive, and can serve as both an introduction for those who don't know his music and as a stimulating addition to his work for those who do.

Track Listing: CD1: Daddy Oh; Aglio e Olio; Indonesian Nights; Happy Sergio; Unresolved; You Rock My World (Asako); Just Give Thanks and Praise; Bull Years; Ninety Five; It's Been So Nice To Be With You; I'll Remember Jimmy; Called Love; To Be Continued. CD2: Acid Wash; Backward Shack; Ya Bay BEE; Ashleen; Katarina's Prayer; Pasta Faggioli; Takin' My Time; Blues for T; Rudy and the Fox; Slow Down Sagg; Just Give Thanks and Praise.

Personnel: Tony Monaco: organ, vocal; Jason Brown: drums; Joey DiFrancesco: organ; Derek Dicenzo: guitar; Ken Fowser: tenor saxophone; Asako Itoh: piano; Reggie Jackson: drums; Robert Kraut: guitar; Byron Landham: drums; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Mary McClendon: lead vocals; Sarah Morrow: trombone; Adam Nussbaum: drums; Ted Quinian: guitar; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Vito Rezza: drums; Louis Tsamous: drums; Columbus Choir Singers: vocals.

Title: Celebration | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Chicken Coup Records

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