Eric Reed is making a habit of covering Thelonious Monk. A year after releasing The Dancing Monk, the pianist has issued another album of Monk tunes. The Baddest Monk includes seven of the bebop father’s tunes and two Monk-ish originals. In doing so, Reed proves that there is always something new to say about, and through, Monk’s music.
The core of the band is the rhythm section, with Matt Clohesy on bass and Henry Cole on drums. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake appears on four tunes and trumpeter Etienne Charles on three. When the whole quintet plays, it gets into some spirited grooves. The funky bop of a rearranged “Rhythm-a-Ning” sets up Reed’s solo nicely; he smooths Monk’s jagged edges even as he lets a hail of notes fly. After horn solos on “Epistrophy” marked by crisp staccatos (Charles) and winding, curving figures (Blake), Reed plays contrapuntally and counter-rhythmically as he sinks his claws into the chord changes.
By itself the trio is equally powerful. “Green Chimneys” features an unusual rhythm, one that feels drawn from bebop, marches and West African music. Indeed, Cole’s masterful drumming is the focus; the melody disappears beneath the beat, the blistering bass and the piano’s flurry. The three are reflective on a soft rendition of “Monk’s Mood,” and they gallop through “Evidence,” with Reed taking a long workout of a solo. Reed’s originals-“Monk Beurre Rouge,” which seems to interpolate part of “Crepuscule With Nellie,” and the title track, a bluesy piano solo-fit in perfectly. The disc’s literal and figurative center is “‘Round Midnight,” a vocal performance by José James, who revamps the melody with his velvety baritone, Reed comping behind him.