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CD Review: Jimmy Owens - The Monk Project

When listening to NEA Jazz Master trumpeter Jimmy Owens album The Monk Project, one is under the impression of listening to a classic jazz album from the 50's. This homage to jazz genius Thelonious Monk includes master musicians Kenny Barron on piano, Marcus Strickland on saxophone and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.
The swing never stops all throughout the album starting with the track “Bright Mississippi”.
Howard Johnson plays the tuba, giving the piece a distinct New Orleans jazz feel and echoing those first jazz recordings where the tuba was played instead of the bass.

In “Well you needn't” Owens plays the flugelhorn on a slow arrangement of this Monk classic. Barron adds some outstanding solos over interesting, constant tempo changes.

Even though Monk compositions are complex harmonically, in Owens slow, bluesy arrangement of “Blue Monk”, one can see clearly how deeply rooted in the blues and in the New Orleans tradition Monk compositions really are. Owens and Strickland exchange amazing improvisations and Barron closes with some bluesy solos of his own.

Kenny Davis shines with a powerful solo on bass in “Stuffy Turkey”. The arrangement on this one stays closer to the sound of Thelonious Monk.

The brass harmonies on “Pannonica” sound like an arrangement for a big band. This Monk composition was dedicated to the Baroness of Pannonica, Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild, sometimes referred to as the "bebop baroness" or "jazz baroness" because of her patronage of Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker among others jazz musicians of the bebop era.

Kenny Barron plays some sophisticated harmonies on piano and Howard Johnson adds some richly inventive baritone sax solos in the swing/waltz arrangement of “Let's cool one”.

The cool arrangement of the classic Duke Ellington composition “It don't mean a thing (If it ain't got that swing)” keep the album swinging and contains another powerful display by Jimmy Owens on trumpet.

The intricate treatment and re-harmonization of another Monk classic “Brilliant Corners”, changes constantly between blues and swing with Kenny Barron leading the way on piano.

The album closes with the intimate trumpet and piano duo on “Reflections” and one of the coolest versions I’ve heard of Monk’s “Epistrophy”. Very close to Monk’s sound but with a more orchestrated big band feel.

Musicians: Jimmy Owens - trumpet, flugelhorn, Wycliffe Gordon - trombone, Marcus Strickland - tenor saxophone, Howard Johnson - tuba, baritone saxophone, Kenny Barron - piano, Kenny Davis - bass, Winard Harper – drums

Tracks: Bright Mississippi, Well you needn't, Blue Monk, Stuffy Turkey, Pannonica, Let's cool one, It don't mean a thing (If it ain't got that swing), Brilliant Corners, Reflections, Epistrophy

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Wilbert Sostre