The MONK'estra is actually a number of groups of various shapes and sizes, from duo to big band, assembled under the guiding hand of composer, arranger & pianist John Beasley towait for it!"play John Beasley," an artist whose admiration for Thelonious Sphere Monk is clear throughout this buoyant and resourceful album, as it was on Volumes 1 and 2 of the series, in which the MONK'estra "played Monk."
Beasley wrote eight of the album's fourteen genial numbers (and arranged them all), Monk four, Miles Davis/Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington one apiece. The full band plays on half a dozen tracks, the MONK'estra Septet on four, a nonet on one, a quartet on another. Synthesizers (played by Beasley and Steve Tavaglione) are used on the brief "Intermission," a trio (Beasley, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta) on Beasley's ballad "Be.YOU.tiful." There are guests on five numbers: Gregoire Maret (harmonica) on "Monk's Mood" and "Five Spot," Joey DeFrancesco (organ) on "Rhythm-a-Ning/Evidence," Hubert Laws (flute) on "Locomotive," Jubilant Sykes (vocal) on Ellington's "Come Sunday."
Beasley's nods to Monk are everywhere, especially (but not exclusively) on Monk's compositions: "Monk's Mood," "Rhythm-a- Ning," "Off Minor," "Locomotive," the last taken at a pace that is more suggestive of a tugboat than a freight or passenger train. Beasley's "Steve-O" opens the session in a brisk and Monkish mood with solos to match by the leader on piano and Brian Swartz on trumpet. "Sam Rivers" offers more up-tempo fireworks before "Monk's Mood" slows the pace, setting the stage for Parker & Gillespie's multi-layered "Donna Lee" (a.k.a. "Indiana") whose choppy section passages are so demanding that even the MONK'estra, good as it is, has trouble sorting them out.
The band is splendid on the sensuous "Song for Dub" and the closing "Come Sunday," as is the septet on "Implication" and "Masekela." Maret is the guest on "Monk's Mood" and the well-grooved "Five Spot." While Beasley doesn't play piano like Monk (who could?), his arrangements capture the tenor and temperament of the maestro, and the MONK'estra(s) work hard to give them life and purpose. With more than forty of Monk's astute and quirky compositions yet to be recorded by Beasley and the MONK'estra, there is ample roomand incentivefor Volume 4 and beyond.
Steve-O; Sam Rivers; Monk's Mood; Donna Lee; Song For Dub; Five Spot; Implication; Intermission; Masekela; Rhythm-A-Ning/Evidence; Off Minor; Be.YOU.tiful; Locomotive; Come Sunday.
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