The Baddest Monk
Humor, quirkiness, bluesy rootsiness and bebop brilliance are inherent qualities in the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk. Consequently, a certain intentional irreverence — without any disrespect, mind you — is practically the cost of admission for musicians to reach the heart of Monk tunes. On The Baddest Monk, pianist Eric Reed understands that imperative and boldly acts on it, handily capturing the spirit of the late, great pianist and composer. Leading a quintet including longtime associate Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone, Reed offers seven fresh interpretations of familiar gems and two originals in a similar vein.
The twisting begins right away, with bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Henry Cole driving a low-simmering funk feel under “Rhythm-A-Ning.” It’s but the first of several pieces offering plentiful space for Reed’s fluent, highly rhythmic, conversational improvisations. Trio piece “Monk’s Mood” benefits from pregnant pauses, unison and harmony bass/piano riffs and Latin-tinged rhythms. Meanwhile, “Bright Mississippi” is reborn in 7/4, with multiple opportunities for Cole to respond in-kind to solos taken by trumpeter Etienne Charles, Blake and Reed.
José James drops by to sing ” ‘Round Midnight” about halfway through the disc, sustaining key notes of the melody for maximum dramatic effect. With Reed as the vocalist’s sole accompaniment, the standard becomes a moving chamber piece. The quintet invigorate other Monk tunes, as well. “Green Chimneys,” also played sans horns, opens with an extended section featuring just piano and drums, and provides more room for Cole’s responses to his bandmates. “Evidence,” another trio track, has Reed riding hard above a chunky rhythm-section-swing groove and trading eights with Cole. Monk’s spirit also imbues Reed’s original compositions: the slowly shifting, New Orleans-influenced “Monk Beurre Rouge,” which features an extended solo by Clohesy, and the title track, an eminently relaxed solo-piano piece.
You can never have too much Monk, especially when approached with the vigor and ingenuity of Reed and company.
— Philip Booth