Jimmy Owens' tribute to the indomitable music of Thelonious Monk
is a luxurious road trip that travels on smooth roads once precarious and quite perilous. His septet, an experienced large/small ensemble, glides almost effortlessly through the opulence of this music.
The ease in which these musicians maneuver through the nine Monk compositions, plus Duke Ellington
's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," is a testament to their talents, but more so to Owens' deft arrangements. Owens pronounces Monk's music approachable, congenial and quite user-friendly.
The often thorny "Epistrophy," a left-handed compliment of a song, is played as a "jang-jang" bluesy railroad swinger, with almost a country and western tilt. Howard Johnson
sets aside his tuba for baritone saxophone, gliding a solo above the engine pulse propulsion of drummer Winard Harper
and bassist Kenny Davis
. Each musicianincluding the always flawless trombonist Wycliffe Gordon
and saxophonist Marcus Strickland
solos before pianist Kenny Barron
warms the melody with seeming informality. Gone are the pregnant pauses and hesitant gestures of Monk interpreters like Steve Lacy
and Misha Mengelberg
The music recalls the earlier work of Barron and his Monk tribute band Sphere, which he co-led with bassist Buster Williams
and former Monk sidemen, saxophonist Charlie Rouse
and drummer Ben Riley
. Like Owens, Barron infuses his Monk, not as the crazy sorcerer, but as a bluesy melody maker. "Brilliant Corners" is slowed to a stop/start wriggle, its quirk swapped for the blues, almost to announce a new and listener-friendly translation. The same goes for the difficult "Let's Cool One," that is choreographed in a more introspect way, changing the tempo from 4/4 to 3/4 time.
Owens' tribute to Monk is a craftsman's project, making beautiful what was once foreign and undomesticated. Monk purists may scoff, but fans of gorgeous music will exalt.
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.
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.