For a few years in the early 90s I ran a coffeehouse that weekly (some say weakly) presented local jazz acts. From fusion to solo piano, I had but one requirement of any musician. Play at least one Thelonious Monk tune per night and the gig was yours. Deviously simple, Monk’s music always separates the talented from the fake. I regularly challenged them by requesting “Epistrophy, “Evidence,” and “Trinkle-Tinkle.” Most beginners choose the Blues, “Straight, No Chaser.” Chicken! Monk, to me is incomparable as an original composer whose music is instantly recognizable. That may be why piano tribute albums to Thelonious are problematic; either they are copying or they fire off-the-mark. Monk could do Monk, so can soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (piano-less), Jerry Gonzalez or Danilo Perez (as Latin-Monk), Drummers Ralph Peterson or Paul Motian (piano-less), and saxophonists Steve Slagle or Bennie Wallace (again piano-less). Monk’s distinguishing voice warns imitators to speak with their own tongues.
Brian Trainor covers Monk on only four of the fourteen tracks. Smart move. His Monk is the Monk of the academy-trained pianist. To his credit, he allows saxophonist Richie Cole and Steve Marcus to shine on the Monk blowing vehicles “Let’s Cool One” and “Well You Needn’t.” To his credit, he isn’t Monk derivative. Trainor favors the post-bop piano of Bill Evans. His covers of Monk, like Keith Jarrett’s standards repertoire, remain in their own voice. With that said, Trainor’s composition, “Monk & Me,” tosses us a fine curveball. While I listened to it, convinced it was a Monk original, I spun my mental rolodex to come up with the name. Trainor had captured both Thelonious’ playing and writing. Ba-bing! He’s got himself a single, if there were such things as jazz jukeboxes. Kelly Rodrigues’ vocal on “Still We Dream” reminds me of Carmen McRae’s great Sings Monk record. The only disappointment here was bop trumpeter John Swana who traded his axe for the electric EVI. It was weird but not wonderful.
Track List:Let’s Cool One; Hackensack; Bernstein’s Girl; Monk & Me; Cape May Freeway; Face Intro; One Face, One Smile, One Heart; Still We Dream; Straight No Chaser; B’s Waltz; Well You Needn’t; Again To This Star; Cape May Freeway (Rush Hour Mix); Monk & Me (Me & Monk Mix).
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