Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Tony Monaco - "Celebration: Life, Love, Music"

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Visit Tony Monaco's website and purchase the album here.

Monaco and team blend outstanding sounds of classic Hammond B3 organ greats with modern and swanky sensibility to please a variety of jazz tastes

Hailed previously by JazzTimes as a "monster B3 player", Tony Monaco's "Celebration: Life, Love, Music" continues to showcase this Hammond heavy hitter at his finest and is his first studio album since 2006's "East to West."

This two-disc collection could have easily been split into two powerful and separate albums that each hold their own weight. However, Monaco and friends have graciously packaged their considerable talent into one roaring 133-minute, double-CD set, ensured that they tackled jazz in its various forms to please a wide audience, and delighted us with all original Monaco compositions.

Few jazz albums open with -- let alone include -- a bright jazz waltz, but "Celebration" does just that with "Daddy Oh!", featuring New York's Jason Brown as guest on the drums. It is his introductory cadence that kicks off the album and solidly sets a mood that decries us to hold on tight for a burning and fun ride.

From there, the album pleases with Monaco's dexterity at setting the right B3 organ moods, tones, coupled with his absolutely masterful left foot on the bass. That's right; there is no bass player on this album. In the 'amazing' tradition of Jimmy Smith, Monaco's mentor and great B3 organist, Monaco has the bass completely under control and no matter the tempo, locks solidly throughout with session drummers Jason Brown, Reggie Jackson, Byron Landham, Adam Nussbaum, Louis Tsamous, and Vito Rezza.

Each of the tracks offer a veritable festival of jazz styles that feature a wide variety of seasoned soloists on guitar, piano, trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. For instance, after "Daddy Oh", comes "Aglio e Olio", a searing, swinging, hard bop take over classic "I Got Rhythm" changes. However, by track three, the mood changes completely on "Indonesian Nights", a soulful, smooth funk made to cool you off after you've been dropped right on the sweltering streets of Jakarta at midnight. This chart would play well on both classic and smooth jazz stations, as well as a second smooth funk offering a few tracks later on "You Rock My World".

The album continues to blaze ahead with tasty Brazilian bossanovas ("Happy Sergio"), a pensive piece ("Unresolved") and shouts hallelujah at the Sunday Revival with vocalist Mary McClendon and gospel choir on "Just Give Thanks and Praise". After church, on "Bull Years", we arrive back in the heart of the city with a relentless medium swing that trades fours between organ and drums.

We cool down again for a spell on "Ninety Five", in early 1960's West Coast style, to a delicious bite of lead tenor sax from Philly-based Ken Fowser. "It's Been So Nice to Be With You" is a fun two-beat swing in which Monaco alternates between a biting traditional organ tone on the melody but quickly switches to a mellower diapason behind McCaslin as he lends his warm sax sound to the piece.

"I'll Remember Jimmy (2012)" is a reprise from the track that was on Monaco's 2006 album ('East and West'), but instead of featuring Bruce Foreman on guitar, we hear from Donny McCaslin on tenor sax. The recording quality also appears to be a bit crisper, as though we had the front row seats at Night Town in Cleveland, drenched in jazz all night long.

On "Called Love" (vocal), Monaco opens with an introduction that rings of the opening credits to a swarmy 1960's soap opera, but then changes that mood as he sings a rubato introduction that speaks of a relationship in which "time stands still". When paired with the B3, Monaco's vocal style is remniscient of a young Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, where the heartfelt message of the song is key. During the "A" section of the tune, even though it is an original composition melodically, I could definitely hear the changes of "Misty".

Disc One then ends the same way that an excellent live show or radio program would pause for a break - with a short bumper tune reprise of "You Rock My World (Asako)" now named "To Be Continued", designed to get one ready to hear Disc Two. 

Tony Monaco's "Celebration: Life, Love, Music" comes in a Limited Edition Two-Disc Set, white hot with 71 more minutes of outstanding music on the second disc. For the Columbus (Ohio)-based Hammond B3 organ master, this album is a true rendering of his immense talent, ability to collaborate with star professional, song craftsmanship, and ability to hold his own in league with fellow B3 masters such as Jimmy Smith, Joey DiFrancesco (who also appears on the album!), and Pat Bianchi. This is world-class jazz that blends classic sensibilites with modern grooves.

Tony Monaco: B3 organ, vocal; Jason Brown, drums / Joey DiFrancesco, organ / Derek Dicenzo, guitar / Ken Fowser, tenor saxophone / Asako Itoh, piano / Reggie Jackson, drums / Robert Kraut, guitar / Byron Landham, drums / Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone / Mary McClendon, lead vocals / Sarah Morrow, trombone / Adam Nussbaum, drums / Ted Quinian, guitar / Kenny Rampton, trumpet / Vito Rezza, drums / Louis Tsamous, drums / Voices from Around The World.

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