Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet - Memories of T (Concord, 2006)

There are so many mediocre tribute albums that I approached this one with quite a bit of trepidation. Monk's music was so original and so unique to him and just a few other colleagues, that it's rare for another to capture the essence of Thelonious. Fortunately, drummer Ben Riley was one of Monk's chosen intimates and this first hand knowledge is one of the things that make this disc special. This is a pianoless (!) septet that is made up of in various combinations: Riley on drums; Don Sickler on trumpet; Bruce Williams on alto and soprano saxophones; Wayne Escoffery on tenor saxophone; Jimmy Greene on tenor saxophone; Jay Brandford on baritone saxophone; Freddie Bryant: guitar; Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass; and Peter Washington on bass. The arrangements are by Riley and Sickler and they really breathe fresh life into the Monk songbook. The group improvises together on the songs well and the individual tune lengths are kept pithy and to the point. Bryant deserves special praise, as he shifts from providing rhythm to fleet soloing very well. All of the familiar Monk melodies are here, but "Nutty" stands out from the pack to be the song that really strikes home. The melody is played with such joy and verve by this band that one can imagine the ghost of Thelonious dancing around like he used to do on stage. This is a fine album and a worthy pickup for all fans of Monk's compositions. Much like Bach or Beethoven, Monk has entered the canon where tributes abound. The Monk songbook isn't very large, but there's certainly room for a sequel or two and this band deserves the opportunity.

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