American composer and pianist John Beasley has recorded and performed with Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan, James Brown, Spice Girls, Dianne Reeves, Ry Cooder, Chick Corea, Sérgio Mendes and many more. He has also been lead arranger on the shows America’s Got Talent and American Idol, which sounds mildly horrendous, but a boy’s gotta make a living presumably.
The 56 -year-old Louisiana arranger and musician received acclaim for his 2012 album, Cauldron, which, incidentally was produced by the shadowy presence that is Steely Dan's other half, Walter Becker. On the new record, he is on a Thelonious Monk trip in the company of a big band, Monk write large, amplified and renovated for more sonic possibilities.
Vibraphonist Gary Burton brings a light touch to the sassy opener, Epistrophy, while Bob Sheppard plays alto and soprano saxes over the ill-advised hand-claps on the second track, Skippy (what's wrong with plain drums?) The thing moans along with behemoth strides, painting big stripes of colour, allows a modest drum solo after all, and generally presses home a message of manic enchantment. The wild thing sounds at times like the Mingus Big Band at full throttle.
Led by two trumpet soloists and a trombonist, Oska T has a brassy outdoors groove that leads into the quiet, meditative bass-led Monk’s Processional, the shortest thing on the record at 2:52. The longest track, Little Rootie Tootie runs to over nine minutes, a smart exercise of restrained funk before it gets warmly intimate and playful. The concluding track, Coming on the Hudson, is an endearingly laid-back riverboat tune, there is no other way of putting it.
The band’s take on Round Midnight is my favourite and may well be yours. The Monk'estra make it modern and bring something fresh and new - with a synth, no less - to the old standard. In sum, a record which will charm with sweet cacophony, and the mellow mood essayed on tracks like Round Midnight and the studiously temperate piece, Gallop's Gallop, which barely breaks into a sweat.