M'ONKestra Plays John Beasley
(Mack Avenue Records)
On their previous albums, John Beasley’s MONK’estra offered imaginative takes on music from Thelonious Monk’s enduring songbook. For their third release, M’ONKestra Plays John Beasley (Mack Avenue), the band certainly evokes its namesake —they interpret a quartet of Monk classics — while also adding compositions by its piano-playing leader, who penned eight of the 14 tracks. Various permutations of the MONK’estra are featured throughout, from the full 16-piece big band to smaller ensembles, and utilize guests such as harmonicist Grègoire Maret, Hammond B3 wizard Joey DeFrancesco and vocalist Jubilant Sykes. Beasley pares down to a trio on his composition “Be.YOU.tiful,” a twinkling, bluesy gem, accompanied by bassist John Patitucci and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Unrushed by the rhythm section, Beasley luxuriates in mood and melody, his playing almost meditative as Patitucci shadows his steps and Colaiuta lays down a silvery scrim with brushes. As with other songs on the album, the tune powerfully calls to mind the era in which Monk thrived, while commenting on the man and his times through a 21st-century prism.