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Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project

Edward Blanco By

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With a career spanning over 45 years, legendary trumpeter Jimmy Owens has had the privilege of performing with many giants of jazz, including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Billy Taylor, bassist Charles Mingus, drummer Max Roach and the incomparable pianist Duke Ellington. Though he never had the opportunity to record with pianist Thelonious Monk, he did know and admire him, and has played the icon's music throughout his career. The Monk Project is Owen's tribute to a special man and his music, both representing lasting influences on the trumpeter. With the exception of one Ellington tune, the album focuses on nine of Monk's best-known works, delivered through Owens' unique voice and staying as close to the original arrangements as possible.

Piano great Kenny Barron—whose own association with Monk goes back thirty years—joins Owens once again, their first collaboration dating back 45 years earlier. Tubaist/baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson—who knew and recorded with Monk—also graces the first-call septet assembles by Owens for this homage. Arranged by saxophonist Ayal Vilner, "Bright Mississippi" is a clever redesign of Monk's own take of Maceo Pinkard's standard, "Sweet Georgia Brown," while a lively performance from drum sensation Winard Harper serves as the musical backdrop to Owens' soft and warm-toned flugelhorn performance of a slightly Latin-tinged "Well You Needn't."

"Stuffy Turkey," "Pannonica" and "Let's Cool One" provide the album's winning trifecta, with great performances that attest to Monk's contribution as a writer. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and bassist Kenny Davis share the spotlight, with superb solo moments. Elsewhere, Johnson's tuba and Gordon's trombone howl in support of Owens' lead voice on a swinging look at Ellington's classic "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

One of the trumpeter's personal favorite Monk compositions "Reflections" represents the project's gentlest tune, with Barron's light chords accompanying Owens' melodic flugelhorn phrasings. The blues is an important element of this tribute, too, with the New Orleans-styled "Blue Monk" and the lengthy finale "Epistrophy" providing almost twenty minutes of music.

Though Owens is a veteran jazz artist with a long discography, this is only his sixth recording as leader. A major figure in jazz history and an inspiration to Owens early in his career, Monk is remembered here as the premier jazz musician he was, with The Monk Project representing one of the finest tributes to date.

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.

Title: The Monk Project | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: IPO Recordings

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