T.S. Monk Band: Two Continents One Groove

In spirited, swinging set, the drummer and jazz scion proves the exception to his own observation that 'most live albums aren’t that good'

2017

At 72, T.S. “Toot” Monk, the drummer, composer and son of Thelonious Monk, has enjoyed a long and varied musical career. He played drums in his father’s trio in the mid-1970s before moving  into the R&B arena, touring with the group Natural Essence and enjoying solo success in 1980 with Bon Bon Vie, a Billboard-award-winning hit single he also sang on 10 years before it was sampled by Public Enemy.

As Monk’s first live release, Two Continents One Groove returns him to his roots in jazz and a band he’s led since the early 90s. As the title suggests, the set is drawn from two shows (taped in Switzerland and Harlem) and the “Groove”, he insists, refers to the collective sound of his sextet whenever they hit the bandstand. “If there’s one thing this album is, it’s swinging,” he proudly boasts on the disc’s press release – and he’s not wrong.

The album opens with Sierre, a breezy tribute from Toot to his daughter, slick with finger snaps and crisp unison horns, sounding like something from 60s Blue Note. Through the tune’s near-nine minutes, Monk drives the band between mid and double tempo, smearing creative cymbal and snare phrasing under zestful solos from Helen Sung on piano, trumpeter Josh Evans and the “funk tenor vocabulary” of saxophonist Willie Williams – a long-serving sideman to Monk, not to mention notables such as Art Blakey, Sam Rivers and Clifford Jordan.

Following Sung’s equally potent Brother Thelonious comes the first of two Randy Weston compositions in the set, Chessman’s Delight. Here, in a more bop style, we hear the bright tap of Monk’s ride cymbal dancing over heavy piano, horns and , through calmer sections, some gentle, low-end rumbling from Kenny Davis, the band’s tasteful, melodic bassist.

Davis also provides the anchor for a high-energy reading of the Miles Davis-Victor Feldman standard Seven Steps To Heaven, rife with a run of rousing solos that screech to a halt for a short but inspired one from Monk, skilfully sticking the tune’s melody around snare, bass drum and toms. Listening to the band rebuilding the theme, the enthusiasm from the audience is now audibly clear. This adds to an energy on stage which settles only after the horns hit their last high-register note and an unaccompanied Josh Evans blows through applause to introduce his ballad Ernie Washington on trumpet.

Elsewhere, Jymie Merritt’s Nommo, a tune best remembered fluttering with brushes on Max Roach’s Drums Unlimited album, is given a dynamic lift from Monk with sticks. It’s a lively, free performance that could have suitably closed this set, had the band not had all 11 minutes of Randy Weston’s Little Niles to exhibit more of their formidable versatility, tripping through funk to some Afro-Cuban-swing.

And boy, does it swing. In fact, if what Monk suggests in the sleeve notes – that “most live albums aren’t that good” – is true, then this record is a real exception. The arrangements are inspired, the ambience is perfectly captured and Toot and Co. undoubtedly prove they put the groove into the title of this hard-swinging classic.

Discography
Sierre; Brother Thelonious; Chessmen’s Delight; Seven Steps to Heaven; Ernie Washington; Nommo; Little Niles (59.53)
Monk (d); Willie Williams (ts); Kenny Davis (b); Josh Evans (t); Patience Higgins (as); Dave Stryker (g); Helen Sung (p). Marians Jazzroom, Bern, 24 April 2016 and Ginny’s, Harlem, 7 May 2014.
Storyville Records 1018530