You’ve reached a Premium article. To continue reading, please login or start a 3-MONTH TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION for just 99 cents/month. You’ll receive unlimited digital access plus a complimentary issue of our award-winning print magazine.
The first two releases from pianist John Beasley’s MONK’estra were all about affirming the continued vitality of compositions by the powerhouse big band’s namesake, as they offered fresh arrangements of Monk gems replete with unexpected turns and inspired soloing. The third time’s a charmer of a different breed, a beefy collection of tunes that has Beasley focusing on his own compositions as well as music by Monk, Ellington and Charlie Parker, and showing off his considerable inventiveness as an instrumentalist.
Tracks by the large group bump up against those featuring smaller ensembles throughout. But it’s the half-dozen cuts by the 16-piece big band that give the set its biggest kicks, starting with the start-stop rhythms, playful melody, chattering horn sections and hard-grooving, stretched-out piano solo of opener “Steve-O.” The unit excels, too, on a careening version of “Donna Lee” injected with Latin rhythms and tricked-out interludes, and Beasley’s mellow “Song for Dub,” limned with wind-ensemble padding and harmonies. There are also inspired rethinks of Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” with churning B3 by guest organist Joey DeFrancesco, and “Locomotive,” with guest flutist Hubert Laws; and a richly textured take on Ellington’s “Come Sunday” topped by singer Jubilant Sykes.
The leader’s “Be.YOU.tiful” benefits from a lilting theme and impressive solos by Beasley and bassist John Patitucci, supported by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. The three are joined by trombonist Ryan Dragon and Bob Sheppard, on bass clarinet, for the twisty original “Implication.” The latter is built on a stair-stepping groove and call-and-response passages between the pianist’s repeated riff and the horns. Grégoire Maret’s haunting harmonica enlivens a free-floating “Monk’s Mood,” with bassist Benjamin Shepherd and drummer Terreon Gully, and the same trio is augmented with saxophonist Sheppard, this time on tenor, for Beasley’s “Five Spot,” a rootsy swinger named for the Manhattan club where Monk famously played and recorded. — Philip Booth