Tony Monaco: Vital Organs

Jim Santella By

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Tony Monaco
Live at the Orbit Room
Chicken Coup Records

Don Hales
Unified String Theory
Chicken Coup Records

Tony Monaco comes from the Jimmy Smith school of organists who use groove to interact successfully with audiences. At a young age, Monaco was faced with an obstacle: neuralgic amyotrophy, a disease closely related to polio, which has been his burden as well as a motivation. Through his music, Monaco has succeeded where others may have given up; not only has he issued a double-handful of great recordings, but he also runs Chicken Coup Records. Now a few years shy of 50, he continues a tradition born from an earlier generation of jazz legends.

Live means never having to say you're sorry. It's what thousands of jazz musicians do every week in various clubs around the world. The decision to release a recording, of course, rests on how well things went at the gig. Along with guitarist Ted Quinlan and drummer Vito Rezza, Monaco travels through five familiar songs on Live at the Orbit Room, trading eights, improvising unpredictably upon themes and creating excitement at every turn. Monaco favors lyrical lines that flip around and emphasize flowing melodies; for that reason, the guitar makes a perfect partner for his adventures. The program strikes a chord for jazz lovers who want to relive the memories of Jimmy Smith. "Ode to Billie Joe," in particular, gives the album a comfortable '60s charm.

Guitar and B-3 organ again take center stage on Unified String Theory, a studio session by Don Hales that features Monaco along with bassist Andy Woodson, drummer Matt Wagner and tenor saxophonist/flutist Kris Keith. The quintet is reminiscent of the extensive body of work by guitarist Wes Montgomery with organist Mel Rhyne and while most of the program is Hales compositions, his thematic statements represent a period when jazz brightened to the refrains of standards that could be picked up at a moment's notice. Hales' earlier work with Nancy Wilson, Eddie Harris and organist Bill Doggett appears in his music as an emphasis on pure melody, unforgettable enchantment with popular song and appreciation of a rhythmic groove as prime motivator. This lively session bumps and grinds its way through historical avenues, oozing satisfied stories along the way.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Orbit Room

Tracks: S'bout Time; Ode to Billie Joe; I'll Close My Eyes; Someday My Prince Will Come; Slow Down Sagg; S'bout Time; Ode to Billie Joe.

Personnel: Tony Monaco: organ; Ted Quinlan: guitar; Vito Rezza: drums.

Unified String Theory

Tracks: Strawberries—Raspberries; Seaweed Song (Tic Tac Toe); Motivation; Feelings; Dance of the Zodiac; Louie the Greek; Mighty Mouse; Breath of the Blues.

Personnel: Don Hales: guitar; Tony Monaco: organ; Andy Woodson: acoustic bass, electric bass; Kris Keith: flute, tenor saxophone; Matt Wagner: drums.

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