116

Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project

Greg Simmons By

Sign in to view read count
Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project Thelonious Monk is not suffering from inattention in 2011; it seems, in fact, that he's having a great year, for someone who died in 1982. His singularly quirky tunes have become the staples of hundreds of set lists, and it's hard to swing a dead cat in a record store without hitting dozens of new releases that include at least one Monk song. And why not? Monk's compositions are among the most original, identifiable and substantial music in the jazz canon; the guy was an eccentric genius but, as they say, it's the genius that counts.

Following on the heels of Eric Reed's The Dancing Monk (Savant, 2011), and Kim Pensyl & Phil DeGreg's Melodious Monk (Summit, 2011), Jimmy Owens takes his turn with The Monk Project, an album with the immediate benefit of an A-list lineup to take the veteran trumpeter/flugelhornist's arrangements through their paces. The unusual inclusion of Howard Johnson's tuba on several tracks adds a bit of strategically placed bottom heft. "Unusual" is generally a good thing where Monk's compositions are concerned, and the unorthodox horn is complimentary.

Owens has a deep warm sound on his horns, and never sounds like he's in a hurry—a quality also reflected in the relatively moderate pace of the arrangements. "Brilliant Corners" varies between moderato for the distinctive theme, to downright laconic for the deepest blue improvisational passages.

Contributions by the reeds—tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and tubaist Johnson, also on baritone—are exemplary, supporting the arrangements with supple unison, but showing real chops when authorized to speak out. Wycliffe Gordon makes his trombone growl and moan during his standout romp through "Epistrophy," while pianist Kenny Barron wisely refrains from trying to directly ape Monk's peculiar fingering style, relying instead on his innate sophistication and the strength of the compositions.

The arrangements, layered with harmonies and polyrhythms, are finely crafted, but they have a questionable relationship with Monk's original compositions. On Monk's signature "Epistrophy," Owens expands its basic structure by adding two notes to the original six note left-hand intro, and those extra notes are the rub. In the context of his time, Monk's music was revolutionary, in part, because of its dissonance. Comparing Monk's compositions back-to-back with his contemporaries and they are absolutely shocking for their angularity. By adding those two extra notes to the bass line, Owens transforms the passage from a powerfully discordant statement to little more than a mere bass line. It rounds the edges, downplaying the seditious element central to Monk's music.

None of which is to say that The Monk Project is a bad record. It is very well-crafted and played, but it may simply stray too far from its source. It's worth hearing, but it's also worthwhile to listen to Monk's own recordings for comparison, where the difference in affect is not subtle. The Monk Project is a strong effort, but Owens may have over-reached Monk in his revising a classic set of compositions.


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.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: IPO Recordings | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read Backlog CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark F. Turner
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Before The Silence CD/LP/Track Review Before The Silence
by John Sharpe
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Process And Reality CD/LP/Track Review Process And Reality
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1 CD/LP/Track Review Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 24, 2017
Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read "Pass It On" CD/LP/Track Review Pass It On
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: May 11, 2016
Read "Altadena" CD/LP/Track Review Altadena
by Mark F. Turner
Published: December 9, 2016
Read "Evergreen (Canceled World)" CD/LP/Track Review Evergreen (Canceled World)
by Dave Wayne
Published: January 4, 2017
Read "New Focus On Song" CD/LP/Track Review New Focus On Song
by Roger Farbey
Published: July 23, 2016
Read "Heavy Feel" CD/LP/Track Review Heavy Feel
by Doug Collette
Published: May 21, 2016
Read "Closer To The Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Closer To The Sun
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 10, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!