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Tony Monaco: Celebration : Life, Love, Music

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This two-CD set showcases the fleet-fingered Hammond B3 maven Tony Monaco, who has worked in recent years with Pat Martino and gained notoriety in organ-group circles with six previous releases as a leader. Disc one features Monaco playing originals in a trio setting with drummer Jason Brown (his bandmate in Martino’s organ group) and saxophonist Ken Fowser. Stylistically, the tunes range from the hard-boppish, waltz-time opener, “Daddy-Oh,” to the blazing uptempo romp “Aglio e Olio” and the breezy, Latin-flavored “Happy Sergio.” The toe-tapper “Just Give Thanks and Praise” features Ohio gospel singer Mary McClendon and features Monaco testifying on the keys during his

passionate solo. “It’s Been So Nice to Be With You” is strictly old school, with certain allusions in timbre to pioneers like Milt Buckner and Jimmy Smith, and “I’ll Remember Jimmy” is a free-blowing hard-bop burner paying homage to Monaco’s main influence.

For four tunes on the first disc, including the funky soul-jazz number “Indonesian Nights” and the lush ballad “Called Love” (featuring Monaco’s appealing, Tony Bennett-inspired vocals), the organist recruited his Columbus, Ohio-based colleagues Reggie Jackson on drums and Derek DiCenzo on guitar. Pianist Asako Itoh joins the three Columbus natives on the modern-R&B-flavored “You Rock My World” and the closing reprise of that tune, entitled “To Be Continued,” which is really a showcase for Jackson’s drumming prowess.

The second disc consists of previously released material from Monaco’s catalog and includes guest appearances from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trumpeter Kenny Rampton (the funky “Acid Wash”), drummer Byron Landham (the dynamic shuffle-blues number “Backward Shack,” based on Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack”), guitarist Bruce Forman and drummer Adam Nussbaum (“Rudy and the Fox”). But the highlight here is Monaco’s encounter with fellow B3 burner Joey DeFrancesco on the grooving “Pasta Faggioli” and the gospel-drenched “Katarina’s Prayer.” This potent twofer is a must for organ connoisseurs.

Originally Published