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Changing Of The Guard
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Monk begins to find his voice.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 10/07/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"T.S. Monk's first album found the drummer trying to find his voice and his place in the legacy of his father and the other bebop founders. Monk's second album found him embracing that legacy and beginning to develop his own sound. With his band starting to develop a tighter rapport and largely intact-- only bassist Scott Colley is new to the band of arranger/trumpeter Don Sickler (who doubles on flugelhorn), reedmen Bobby Porcelli (on alto and baritone saxes and flute), Willie Williams (on tenor and soprano saxes) and pianist Ronnie Matthews. The leader sits not at the piano bench, but the drum stool. As a drummer, Monk is explosive and powerful-- his first set was given to him by Art Blakey and Max Roach taught him, and certainly the voices of both of them can be heard in him, but I think Tony Williams is the closest player to him.
So what makes "Changing of the Guard" come off better than "Take One"? By and large the formula is the same-- a bunch of bebop standards in a hard bop (often compared to the Jazz Messengers setting), with a pair of originals thrown in the mix this time. But really I think it's these guys getting a better feel for each other, for understanding each other's capabilities-- the horns work in tighter unison and the arrangements take better advantages of their abilities. The best example of this is on Monk's father's composition, "Crepuscule with Nellie". Traditionally performed without soloing by Monk, the theme is stated largely unaccompanied by the three horns with piano in counter-- harmonies give it the depth of a piano performance from someone like a Thelonious Monk-- before the piece moves into a standard piano trio sound and brings the horns back in for a coda. The whole thing is simply magical.
Great performances are also turned in on Bobby Watson's "Appointement in Milano"-- again showing off just how far this band has come since their first album-- flugelhorn, soprano sax and flute harmonize to form a tight platform and the theme statement is broken up between the three horns before turning the piece over a fractured (dare I say Monkish?) piano solo. James Williams' "Changing of the Guard" finds the band inspired, with several fantastic solos before Porcelli steals the show with a brief, fierce alto contribution. And frantic closer Clifford Jordan's "Middle of the Block" finds rip roaring solos from all three horns with Sickler trading fours with the leader.
Still, for all the great on here, some of it is still not quite there-- J.J. Johnson's "Kelo" gets kind of a half-life reading-- it opens a bit clumsy before moving into great solos by Sickler and Williams, and pieces like Idrees Sulieman's "Doublemint" and Donald Brown's "New York" are decent enough, but they're not terribly attention getting.
The originals end up with kind of a mixed performance-- Ronnie Matthews "Darkness Before Dawn" is light and bouncey, with the same frontline arrangement as 'Milano', but it lacks any bite, and Bobby Porcelli's "K.D." has a great theme statement and alto solo, but as a piece doesn't hold together as well as the other material on here.
Weaknesses aside, this is a reasonable album, well worth looking into for those interested in the drummer Monk's work or looking for some decent hard bop. "Monk on Monk" is the place to begin exploring T.S. Monk's catalog, but this one is a good listen."