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Tony Monaco Trio and Mark Egan-Shawn Pelton-Shane Theriot: Three Is Not A Crowd

Say what we might about quartets, quintets, sextets and beyond, it might be fair to say the trio is the most potent instrumental lineup of them all. Three-piece ensembles hold a special place in the annals of improvisational music (and not just in the jazz milieu: the term 'power trio' was coined in the rock realm to describe Cream and the Jimi Hendrix), if for no other reason than groups led by piano and organ have created some of the most memorable music in its history (see Bill Evans' and Jimmy Smith's various lineups). Add to this illustrious story the works of organist Tony Monaco and bassist Mark Egan, both of whom have shepherded to completion recordings that, each in its own signature fashion, adds further distinction to the decades-long instrumental narrative: while no participant can hide in such a finite setting, so too is it obvious how valuable are each member's contributions.

Mark Egan-Shawn Pellton-Shane Theriot:
Cross Currents
Wavetone Records

Notwithstanding the playful air that permeates "Ponchatrain," Cross Currents doesn't in any way call to mind the bright, breezy tones of the original four-man Pat Metheny Group of which Mark Egan was a member. In fact, the mix of Shane Theriot's acoustic and electric guitars more readily evokes hints of bluesy rock, the likes of which come to full flower on "Gulf Stream." Still, the ghostly air arising from the appropriately titled "Big Sky" is something else altogether, indicative of the synchrony these three musicians share: drummer Shawn Pelton knows full well situations like this that call for him to play with a light touch instead of hammering away like he does on "Pocket Call" (though his saucy strut is a joy to behold there). Pure jazz fusion sans pretensions or awkward efforts at funk, this music represents one of those rare occasions where the ingenuity and intimacy and intermix: the musicianship of Egan, Pelton and Theriot flows as effortlessly during "Homebrew," as everywhere else throughout this slightly more than fifty minutes. And the quality of sound here nurtures the impact their playing creates: recorded and mixed by Evan Bakke, then mastered by Fred Kevorkian, sonic perspectives as wide as they are deep amplify sensations at once haunting and inviting.

Tony Monaco Trio
Over and Over
Chicken Coup Records

As enduring as it is well-documented, the Hammond B3 organ sound hardly needs explaining, but Tony Monaco goes a long way in reminding of its virtues. The presence of guitarist Zakk Jones adds resonant atmosphere to the proceedings too, but it's a mark of this trio's distinction that the lithe drumming of Reggie Jackson hardly goes unnoticed in the mix (as completed by the bandleader who also mastered the recordings). As with its companion piece, this record is bereft of affectation, the direct result of emphasis on tasteful and disciplined musicianship in cuts such as "Da Daddy." Still, there's a palpable sense of play at work here, even when the band is reverently paying homage like they do on "One For Pat (Martino);" not surprisingly, Monaco, Jones and Johnson make it all sound easy on "My Lil' Rosie Girl" as well as "Over And Over (I Want You) without ever sounding predictable or cliched. Healthy length of tracks, running from a little over six to just over nine, are indicative of the infectious pleasure at work here: it'd almost seem the trio is having too much fun to stop playing (and listeners may experience the same effect from their own unique perspective).

Tracks and Personnel

Cross Currents

Tracks: Ponchatrain; Gulf Stream; Cross Currents; Big Sky; Pocket Call; Homebrew; Sunflower; Roll With It; Nonc Rodell; Sand Castles; Eastern Blue.

Personnel: Mark Egan: bass; Shawn Pelton: drums, percussion; Shane Theriot: acoustic guitars, electric guitars.

Over and Over

Tracks: Uprooted; Over and Over (I Want You); One for Pat (Martino); Da Daddy; Sailboat; Ready Set Go!; My Lil' Rosie Girl.

Personnel: Tony Monaco: Hammond B3 organ; Zakk Jones: guitar; Reggie Jackson: drums.

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