John Beasley Presents MONK’estra Vol 1 (Mack Ave.)
A trip-hop “’Round Midnight”? Why the hell not? At this late date, Monk’s most famous tune has been so strongly standardized, it takes a true overhaul to have it heard with fresh ears. John Beasley’s chart kicks it off with seven badass snare triplets that serve as an alarm midway through this all-Thelonious big band album. By the time the spectral theme settles in, its introspection is being goosed by a drum ‘n’ bass groove that’s not usually associated with jazz. Like the rest of Beasley’s valentines, it’s found a way to bounce new life into a stone classic.
When I say “alarm” I’m not suggesting that one is actually needed. From the start – an escalator-up, escalator-down prance through “Epistrophy” that gives Gary Burton a chance to bolster the tune’s inherently percussive nature – there’s vigor in the air. Beasley, an L.A.-based pianist/arranger who has spent time writing for television and film as well as fulfilling Musical Director roles for Queen Latifah and Steely Dan tours, throws some entertaining elaborations our way. The oft-overlooked “Oska T”
vamps its way from a hush to an exclamation – a very swinging exclamation.
The music becomes a tad glossy now and then; Beasley’s also spent time penning jingles. But in several pieces the overt hooks help articulate the inspired designs he brings to everything from “Skippy”
to “Gallop’s Gallop.” Cross themes are filled with cagey specifics, and grace, not intricacy, helps sell a few tracks. The ease that marks “Coming on the Hudson” kind of says it all. An inventive Monk fiend devised a side-ways glance at one of his heroes, and while the solos are swell, it’s the craftsmanship that will have fans anticipating Vol. 2.
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