By Howard Mandel | Published September 2020
John Beasley has arranged the brass brighter and brasher, the low horns to be more growly and his tasty keyboard parts to be artfully highlighted on his third far-reaching album with MONK’estra. Extending marvelously synchronized section motifs—those indelibly quirky Monk phrases—into swelling backdrops that balance freely impassioned soloists, Beasley as a pianist and composer, too, draws out even more melodic, harmonic and rhythmic implications in music by Monk, Bird and Duke.
The intricate recasting of “Donna Lee” contains several thrills, but the motifs throughout are colored vividly, etched with fine yet robust lines and graceful in their surprising twists. The large ensemble’s performance seems flawless and the small group Beasley’s assembled for a few tracks with longtime colleagues such as bassist John Patitucci, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and soulful harmonica player Grégoire Maret is bonded in camaraderie. Among the virtues of Beasley’s charts is that they never outstay their welcome; instead, they leave us wanting more. And with the abundance of details to absorb here, that’s really saying something. Beasley has a brilliant musical mind and warm yet exploratory touch, and his originals fit sweetly amid the time-honored repertoire. Jazz history is beautifully served here by Beasley leading his orchestra to embody his own unique vision.
MONK’estra Plays John Beasley: Steve-O; Sam Rivers; Monk’s Mood; Donna Lee; Song For Dub; Five Spot; Implication; Masekela; Rhythm-A-Ning; Off Minor; Be.YOU.tiful; Locomotive; Come Sunday. (66:23)
Personnel: John Beasley, keyboards; Bob Sheppard, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Lewis, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Thomas Luer, Ralph Moore, tenor saxophone; Tommy Peterson, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Ido Meshulam, Steve Hughes, Francisco Torres, trombone; Bijon Watson, Kye Palmer, James Ford, Brian Swartz, Rashawn Ross, trumpet; John Patitucci, Benjamin Shepherd, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Terreon Gully, drums, percussion; Joey De Leon, conga; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Joey DeFrancesco, Hammond B-3; Hubert Laws, flute; Jubiliant Sykes, vocals.