Album Remarks & Appraisals:
All About Jazz - Hrayr Attarian
Who better to pay homage to one of the musical geniuses of the 20th century than seven of today's most idiosyncratic artists? The septet is lead by Jimmy Owens, who is known for his versatility in settings as diverse as swing bands and avant-garde ensembles; most notably, for this undertaking, he organized a concert of Thelonious Monk music at Carnegie Hall in 1974 that featured the legendary pianist himself.
Although The Monk Project features nine of the master's compositions, they are not slavishly reproduced but they serve as inspiration for Owens' loose interpretation. On "Well You Needn't," for example, Owens' muted trumpet introduces the theme in a more lush and fluid style than the original recording, but soon his edgy, free flowing solo follows on the heels of Kenny Barron's angular and dissonant piano flourishes.
Barron, who led Sphere (named after and dedicated to Monk's music) in the 1980s, is much at home with Monk's work, as heard on "Blue Monk," where his keys drip with the deepest of blues - like a barrelhouse pianist, but with a modern and unique bite worthy of the record's honoree. This smoky quality is enhanced by saxophonist Marcus Strickland's gutbucket tenor. ... read more...
Tributee: Thelonious Monk.
Personnel: Jimmy Owens (trumpet, flugelhorn); Marcus Strickland (tenor saxophone); Howard Johnson (baritone saxophone, tuba); Wycliffe Gordon (trombone); Kenny Barron (piano); Winard Harper (drums).
Liner Note Author: Robin D.G. Kelley.
Recording information: Sear Sound Studios, New York, NY (06/02/2011); Sear Sound Studios, New York, NY (06/08/2011).
Photographer: Stephanie Myers.
Arranger: Jimmy Owens.
Honored as an NEA Jazz Master in early 2012, Jimmy Owens hasn't had the opportunity to lead very many record dates during a career dating back to the later 1950s. But when the trumpeter has entered the studio, he has made an impact, such as this all-star tribute to Thelonious Monk, which includes fellow Jazz Master Kenny Barron on piano, veteran tuba player Howard Johnson (who doubles on baritone sax), plus several outstanding younger musicians who have made their mark since arriving in more recent times: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. Owens arranged eight of the ten selections, finding ways to put a fresh stamp on each composition, while the players on the band's front line are all generously featured. The jagged "Brilliant Corners" incorporates Barron's bluesy piano interlude with the rhythm section, followed by Owens' jaunty trumpet and a hilarious conversation between the horns of Johnson, Gordon (utilizing a mute), Strickland, and the leader. Switching to flügelhorn, Owens' take of "Well, You Needn't" is introduced in a loping manner with long, spacious lines and a Latin backbeat, interspersing brief uptempo lines in spots as both the leader and Barron solo with gusto. Owens' warm flügelhorn is on display in a gorgeous, laid-back setting of the lovely ballad "Reflections" in a trio with Barron and Gordon. Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" is not recorded very often, but its humor is typical of the composer, with Strickland's robust tenor carrying the day. The two songs not scored by Owens are also choice charts. Aval Vilner's playful, breezy setting of "Bright Mississippi" is buoyed by the peppy brass ensemble and potent solos, while Jack Ramsey's arrangement of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" is based upon Monk's trio record with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, with a spirited horn ensemble over Kenny Davis' delicious walking bass, as Johnson (on tuba), Owens, and Gordon are all featured. While there have been numerous tributes to Thelonious Monk over the years, Jimmy Owens' The Monk Project is a cut above. ~ Ken Dryden