Eric Reed – The Baddest Monk – Savant SCD 2118, 53:36 ****:
(Eric Reed, piano; Seamus Blake, tenor sax; Etienne Charles, trumpet; Matt Clohesy, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Jose James, vocal on ‘Round Midnight)
Eric Reed has been active on the jazz scene since at least 1988. He replaced Marcus Roberts as the pianist for Wynton Marsalis. He has been actively recording as a leader since the early 90s for several labels including Mo’ Jazz, Nagel Heyer, and Savant. One thing that Eric always brings to the table is a gospel blues feel that I have always appreciated. His father was a minister and gospel singer, and Eric began playing the piano at a very young age.
On his latest Savant issue, The Baddest Monk, he tackles Thelonious Monk, with seven out of the nine tracks written by Monk. Eric explains in his liner notes that he went into this project with no preconceived notions, and had not worked extensively with any of the other artists with the exception of tenor saxist, Seamus Blake. His band mates hail from Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia, and Trinidad so the musical stew presented on this CD has in Reed’s words, “an irreverent manner – we had our way with Monk.”
I found The Baddest Monk to be very approachable, and appreciated the fact that the horns brought out new flavors that are not found on a piano trio setting or solo piano typical Monk tribute.
“Rhythm-A-Ning” has the familiar Monk piano vamp but the trumpet and sax open up the classic Monk composition to a funk influence combined with a New Orleans feel. Eric goes on several sparkling blues runs. All in all an auspicious beginning. “Epistrophy” mixes cacophony with some dynamic Etienne Charles trumpet, Matt Clohesy’s bass bottom end, and free blowing by Seamus. Henry Cole spurs on the band here, and often on other tracks with crashing cymbals.
“Monk’s Mood” has a Latinesque feel and the horns sit out. Jose James gives an impressive vocal reading to ‘Round Midnight.” James has a burnished voice that gives a moody ambience. I’d like to hear more from this vocalist…
Reed and Clohesy dig in on “Evidence” from the git-go. Henry Cole has an extended feature, and we find perhaps the most traditional arrangement of any of the Monk compositions here, sans horns.
“Monk Beurre Rouge” recorded almost immediately after it was written by Reed, is very pleasing. Dig Clohesy’s head-nodding bass solo before Reed’s righteous blues choruses, and Seamus Blake’s outstanding sax contribution. “Bright Mississippi” is done in march time and Charles and Blake trade lines while Henry Cole’s stick work shines.
The title track concludes with Eric’s tribute to Monk done solo, and is down home gospel that closes the CD with a smile. It reminded me of tracks from Reed’s 2003 Nagel Heyer release, Mercy and Grace, that is my favorite Reed issue. Reed and Monk fans will equally dig The Baddest Monk.
TrackList: Rhythm-A-Ning, Epistrophy, Green Chimneys, Monk’s Mood, ‘Round Midnight, Evidence, Monk Beurre Rouge, Bright Mississippi, The Baddest Monk
This is an accessible album from a virtuoso harmonica player.