Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jimmy Owens, The Monk Project, Thelonius Monk for Septet

If nothing else is clear today (it is early here in New Jersey as I write this) we know that Monk's stature as a jazz composer and improvising artist has continued to grow since his death. His music is being played everywhere, by all kinds of artists. When the beautiful cat Jimmy Owens unleashes his fluegelhorn and trumpet in the service of Sphere, putting together a septet of all-stars and writing out some fresh arrangements, it is something to anticipate with pleasure.

Jimmy Owens's The Monk Project (IPO) is out. I have a copy in my hand right now. The anticipation was justified. It has at least three things going for it--nice arrangements, a great band and Jimmy Owens in excellent form.

So first to the arrangements. All but two are by Jimmy, and they are good. They freshen the vision, they put the pieces in a particular groove--like a blues shuffle for "Blue Monk,"--and they make good use of the four-horn-plus-rhythm configuration. A highlight is an arrangement of "It Don't Mean A Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing" transcribed from the Monk-Pettiford-Clarke Riverside Duke date and arranged for the larger forces by Jack Ramsey. The eight Owen arrangements get down to the essence of Monk without slavishly sticking to the original versions or the mid-sized group arrangements that came forth during Monk's lifetime. And though there are some of the perennial Monk classics, there are also some that are not as often performed, like "Bright Mississippi," "Stuffy Turkey," and "Lets Cool One."

The band: it's Jimmy with Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Strickland, Howard Johnson, Kenny Barron, Kenny Davis and Winard Harper. All contribute in the singular and collective sense to make this a great sounding, swinging affair.

Lastly but not lastly, Jimmy Owens sounds just beautiful. He is in top form with that beautiful tone and great note choice.

So that's it. That's plenty to my mind.

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