Well, let's admit it; the whole idea of doing tribute albums has really gotten out of hand recently. But if you're going to do this type of thing, then saxophonist Steve Slagle and his talented crew have the right idea. For starters, a piano is nowhere to be heard from, with the chameleon-like guitar of Dave Stryker taking on the chordal functions. Right there we avoid any inclinations to produce a mere clone of the original. And instead of delivering the umpteenth version of "Round Midnight" or "Straight, No Chaser," Slagle has opted for a more intelligent selection of Monk charts while including one original of his own (this simply-titled affair, "Monk," also happens to be one of the highlights of the entire disc).
While it would have seemed logical for Slagle to pursue perhaps a tribute to Mingus, owing to his time currently spent with the Mingus big band, the Monk concept actually fits him quite well. His pungent alto, along with Stryker's biting tone, gives this music a contemporary edge that offers a new stance without sacrificing integrity. As an added bonus, Slagle pulls out his alto clarinet on "Jackie-ing" to great effect, at times suggesting the collective attack of Don Byron's work with Bill Frisell. Throughout, bassist Anderson and drummer Nussbaum are supportive and interactive, with Stryker's voicings often suggesting a larger front line than what we have in reality.
In the final analysis, what a breath of fresh air it is to find a tribute album that manages to tip a hat to its honoree while also maintaining an identity and integrity of its own. And for anyone out there still ill at ease regarding the future survival of jazz, the sounds of Slagle and Stryker, both as a pair and separately, are just a few of the many coming from committed players who are proving you don't have to reject tradition in order to innovate.
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