Tony Monaco

Steve Smith’s “Groove Blue Trio” was in Bern last week and played five nights at Marians Jazzroom.  With Steve Smith on drums came Vinny Valentino on guitar and Tony Monaco on the hammond B3 organ.

I saw Steve Smith and Vinny Valentino before and they are excellent musicians but today I would like to focus on Tony Monaco. I heard him playing on some Pat Martino albums but last week was the first time that I could see him performing live. It was good to see him alive and healthy because he recovered from a major blockage of his widomaker artery.

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Tony Monaco began his keyboard life at age eight, so he plays the organ now for 51 years. His destiny as a jazz organist was sealed when he first heard Jimmy Smith. Tony began working in Jazz clubs as a teenager in his home town Columbus, Ohio, guided by local organ gurus Hank Marr and Don Patterson.
In April 2000, Tony met fellow jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco, who offered to produce his debut CD “Burnin Grooves”. The international success of the recording helped him to become a sought-after sideman. Tony toured and recorded with Pat Martino for over two years. Tony is an accomplished teacher as well. He has produced a series of instructional DVDs titled “Playing Jazz Hammond” that have become indispensable for many serious students of the organ. He released his 11th international CD “The Definition of Insanity” on Chicken Coup Records January 2019.

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The album refers to the situation in the last years where he suffered health problems and became father at the same time, that’s what he called insanity. What he also wanted to achieve with this album is to look out for new musical directions. Tony explains: “With this project I wanted to present music that I love and I do it in a way I love to do it without an agenda”. Tony plays the organ, the accordion and he sings, his wife Asako plays piano on one song, guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Tony McClung, both from Columbus, Ohio support Tony Monaco on this CD.

The album contains songs from Phish (“Cars Trucks Buses”), Greateful Dead (“Truckin’”), “Never Let Me Go” as a reminiscence to the late Roy Hargrove, an excellent grooving funky version of Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down”, a very light version of “Quando Quando Quando”, the traditional Neapolitan song “Non Ti Scordare Di Me”, where Tony sings and plays the accordion and finally “A Song For You” by Leon Russell.

The album is a very personal and eclectic collection, all songs are played with a lot of heart and soul and so this albums gets a clear recommendation from me.

Tony is currently on tour with Steve Smith’s “Groove Blue Trio” and he told me that this band is about to record a new album. So look out for more Tony Monaco in the next months.

The album “The Definition of Insanity” on Spotify:

A nice video where Tony plays solo the song “Indonesian Nights”:

And finally a link to his website;
https://b3monaco.com

Mathias Heise & The Danish Radio Big Band: The Beast

R-12733024-1543019409-6168.jpeg Mathias Heise is a 25 year old harmonica player, pianist and composer from Denmark. He released a fantastic album of his original compositions arranged for The Danish Radio Big Band last September. The album is called ‘The Beast’ and it refers to Mathias impression of a big band: “A big band has incredible musical powers – almost like a beast that has to be tamed. But once you’ve tamed it, it can do incredible things”.

Fascinated by the sound and the possibilities of a big band it is a dream that became reality with this album. Some of the band members have been Mathias’ teachers and so we also see here the passing of the torch to the next generation of jazz musicians.

The album starts with ‘Para Mi Madre’ a soft and relaxed latin-style song Mathias has written for his mother. The tune has a great melody and a very easy groove that shows the excellence of this band. The soloists are Gerard Presencer on flugelhorn and Nicolai Schultz on flute and these two instruments emphasize the soft character. This tune is one of my favorites on the album.

Para Mi Madre (With English subtitles)

‘Brain Soup’ is the second song and this song is much more serious stuff.  Beginning with a heavy groove the brass sections play an almost improvisational melody in what Mathis Heise called ‘bombastical block harmonization’. The solo is based on modal harmonic sequences but handled perfectly by Mathias Heise. The song has a second part where Jakob Munck Mortensen sings some strange lyrics, accompanied initially by the rhythm section but ending with the brass section playing long notes and Peter Fuglsang on soprano sax improvising over these sound layers. An ambitious sound collage but performed excellently.

The album continues with the title song ‘The Beast’. It starts with the piano playing dissonant seconds over a steady pulse pushed by bass and drums. Tenor sax and a distorted guitar play the melody of the A part, the flugelhorn plays long notes in the B part of the song. The first solo goes to Per Gade on guitar followed by Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax, Kaspar Vadsholt on electric bass and pianist Nikolaj Bentzon. This song features the incredible rhythm section of this big band.

Mathias Heise on harmonica returns with the next song  ‘Repetition’, an ambitious composition. Mathias says about this tune:  “The melodic DNA of ‘Repetition’ is made up of eight notes/intervals that are repeated over and over, but in new ways. The composition is inspired by the principles of the fugue, by Arnold Schönberg’s tone rows and also by Per Nørgård’s infinity series, which enabled me to construct an infinite – in principle – series of notes from the eight original ones”. And he continues: “I see the composition as a representation of the eternal repetition of life in new and beautiful ways”.

‘Evening Coffee’, dedicated to Mathias’ grandparents, is a beautiful ballad, starting with harmonica, guitar, bass and drums and the big band focusing on long notes creating harmonic layers. The first solo goes to Nicolai Schultz on flute followed by duets of flute/harmonica and guitar/harmonica.

‘One Man Army’ was written in honor of Mathias’ philosophical hero, Karl Popper. The song features Nikloaj Bentzon on piano. Bass and drums produce again a steady pulse on which harmonica and piano can rather freely improvise. The big band gets a chance to play an ‘a cappella’ interlude without rhythm section before we hear the main theme again.

One Man Army (Unfortunately Danish subtitles only)

‘Sudden Ascent’ is already the last song of Mathias Heise with the Danish Radio Big Band. Mathias says: “Sudden Ascent is one of my oldest pieces of music, which I composed back in 2013, and I’ve always dreamed of being able to arrange it for big band”. Again, drums, bass and piano provide a pushing groove, the arrangement gives all sections one more chance to shine and we hear excellent solos by Hans Ulrik on tenor sax, Søren Frost on drums in dialog with Mathias Heise on harmonica. This song ends with a great trumpet finale.

The last song on the album is like an encore: ‘Kærlighedsmusik til Anne (Love Song)’ with Mathias Heise playing piano and harmonica. A beautiful ballad in a nice ‘blue’ mood, the harmonies modulate between major and minor and the harmonica got some extra reverb creating additional space.

The songs from the album have been performed live with Mathias Heise as headliner when The Danish Radio Big Band toured Denmark last September. Every single concert received standing ovations from the audience as well as outstanding reviews. ‘The Beast’ even managed to get a full page review in one of Denmark’s biggest broadsheet newspapers ‘Politiken’, which is very rarely seen when it comes to jazz.

To sum it up: An ambitious album with a fantastic big band and a great young artist who earned to be featured this way. Mathias Heise got the chance to materialize his dream and he took this opportunity and created a masterpiece. Please listen!

And finally the album on Spotify: