MONK’estra, Vol. 2
You can almost hear the gnashing of the teeth of purists – Why do this to Monk? – but though Volume 2 of Beasley’s reworkings of Monk tunes for his own big band is the inevitable mixed bag (opening with Dontae Winslow’s rap on Brake’s Sake is a cringe-inducing moment, an utterly skippable track) there’s still plenty of heart (the warmth oozes from Ugly Beauty/Pannoica) and even some of the transmogrifications show great skill and if you’re open to hearing stateliness turned on its ear and the tummy jumped on until a brand new funkiness is burped out into the air (I Mean You) you’ll do what Beasley and band are clearly doing: You’ll have a good time.
A skilled arranger, almost to the point of showing off, Beasley isn’t able to fully transcend the gimmick here – because as covered as Monk has been and will continue to be, we (mostly) want to hear those gorgeous lines, that profound sense of harmony and grace. And sometimes here it’s just a little too pleased with itself, these reinventions.
All that said, Kamasi Washington nails his spot on Evidence, it’s always nice to hear Dianne Reeves (Dear Ruby) and there are some lovely jazz-workouts (Played Twice) that get to the heart and soul of Monk and present it for both a knowing audience and the neophytes. No mean feat.
So, yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing Beasley and his band at Wellington’s Jazz Festival next month. And most of this album is a very good warm up to what should be a thrilling gig.
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