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Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy: Memories of T

Ben Riley

There’s a brief moment in the new version of “Rhythm-A-Ning” by Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet where a descending line begins with Bruce Williams’ alto saxophone, is handed off to Wayne Escoffery’s tenor sax and is finished off by Jay Brandford’s baritone. It’s as if Williams were acting as the pinkie and ring fingers on Thelonious Monk’s right hand, Escoffery as the middle and index fingers and Brandford as the thumb. Meanwhile, Riley himself seems to employ the cymbals as Monk’s left thumb, the snare as Monk’s left index finger and the toms and kick drum as the other fingers.

It’s a revealing demonstration of the way Monk’s 10 digits acted as independent musicians, each one giving a different weight, different color and different rhythmic placement to its note within a chord or melodic line. Memories of T, the new album by Riley’s septet, is an unusual Monk tribute because there’s no piano on the recording. But, in a sense, the seven musicians are performing as if they were a single piano player.

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