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Wonderfully listenable jazz
Robert Middleton | Boulder Creek, CA United States | 05/23/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"T.S. Monk's latest release, Crosstalk flirts perilously close to smooth jazz with it's drum machine fills and synthesizer washes, but make no mistake, this is masterfully performed jazz by a musician who knows exactly what he's doing. After the great critical and commercial success of "Monk on Monk," T.S. decided it was safe to finally do what he's dreamed of for years: blend elements of pop and funk with jazz to create something that was truly his own -- as he says "to come across as a cross between Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Blood Sweat and Tears.". He's succeeded remarkably well. The CD and the T.S. Monk Band has a lot going for it. Don Sickler has selected and arranged a majority of the tunes and his musical tastes are impeccable. One wonderful surprise is "Smile of the Snake" that appeared on Art Farmer's great 1987 CD, "Blame It on My Youth." And although many of the tunes are on the smooth side, all the solos are beautifully conceived. For instance, on the ballad, "A Touching Affair," the trading of solos between flute and flugelhorn and then soprano and alto saxophones is wonderfully mellow without the cloying sweetness of most smooth jazz. "Squeaky Clean" by pianist Ray Gallon is the only really straight ahead sounding tune, with a Monkish feel to it and "A Chant for Bu" swings with a syncopated rhythm. The title Tune "Cross Talk" could be from one of Miles Davis' mid 80's CDs. Believe it or not, T.s. even sings on two tracks, the rousing "Somebody Give Me a Drink" and the ballad "Just a Little Loin" where he's joined by vocalist Patricia Barber. Both are very enjoyable. All the solos from Willie Williams, Bob Porcelli and Don Sickler are terrific--the harmony and interplay are especially notable. Like all great jazz albums, there's so much good stuff going on here that repeated listenings yield new treasures. I predict this album will do very well because there's so much to enjoy, no matter what kind of jazz you like."
Looking past "Monk on Monk".
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 10/10/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"One of the bravest albums in the past couple decades of mainstream jazz, T.S. Monk's "Crosstalk" is a bit hit or miss. But you've got to respect his desire to grow as an artist and his willingness to look forward. Certainly it would have been tempting, after the critical (and to a lesser extent, commercial) success of his previous album, to have put forth "Monk on Monk II", but instead we got something quite different.
Monk decided to drag his music and his working band into a more modern vibe, bringing in elements of funk, soul and r&b into his music. A couple pieces feature vocals, and Monk plays an electronic drum kit for the majority of the album. Still, it feels like an album by the T.s. Monk, no doubt due to consistency of the frontline-- trumpeter/arranger Don Sickler and reed players Willie Williams (heard on tenor and soprano saxes and clarinet) and Bobby Porcelli (on alto sax and flute), who had played with Monk for seven years at this point, return to the band, as did bassist Gary Wang, who performed on "Monk on Monk". The only newcomer is pianist Ray Gallon, who doubles on synthesizers. And again, the music is by-and-large adventerous bop pieces with a couple originals thrown into the mix. But with the T.S. Monk band habit of bass and left-hand piano doubling, the synths and the electronic drums, there's a unique vibe to this created-- it FEELS like a jazz album, but it doesn't quite sound like one.
In the end, the results are mixed-- sometimes it turns out fantastic jazz performances (Mickey Bass' "A Chant For Bu", with stunning solos by both saxes), sometimes it feels to have missed more than it hits (Gallon original "Squeaky Clean"), but certainly it makes a good listen. And Monk's vocals are a lot of fun-- "Just a Little Lovin'" comes off as a bit of a muddling r&bish piece duetted with Patricia Barber, but his take on Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Somebody Buy Me a Drink" is fantastic. There's a certain bravery in tackling a song whose vocalist is as distinctive and diverse as Brown, and Monk chooses to avoid comparisons by embracing the piece and making it his own-- his shouts of the title of the piece on the coda have an energy and fire to them that Brown never tried, and it makes it work. Also of note is the album's title track, the first composition by T.S. Monk on a jazz record, a man whose father is such an influential composer. It sits uncomfortably deep in an r&b fusion sound, but remarkably prooves to be a good listen even though it doesn't quite work.
Invariably, this one is hit-or-miss, but Monk's willingness to push his sound is commendable. Newcomers to the younger Monk should start with "Monk on Monk", but this one is definitely worth a listen."