Sunday, April 18, 2021

Organ-trio bliss at the Jazz Kitchen: Tony Monaco teams with Haque and Phelps

 Jazz organ, rooted in rich, rollicking and sometimes even cheesy Hammond B-3 sonorities, boasts a

Heat treatment: Tony Monaco, Fareed Haque, Kenny Phelps

conventional combination with guitar and drums that almost always exhibits sterling rapport amid blazing energy.

But only the most fleet of foot, hands, and mind across three players can achieve the right teamwork. Three is never a crowd when the adept exponents are of the quality the Jazz Kitchen hosted this past weekend. Tony Monaco shared the bandstand with guitarist Fareed Haque and drummer Kenny Phelps to cap a two-night engagement.

I heard Saturday's second set only, and must assume that the first one also didn't delay hitting the ground running. The trio opened its latter session with a tour through "Besame Mucho," with the fire stoked particularly by Phelps in the second chorus of Haque's solo. More than the application of heat was involved, because from the first number on, the trio presented a united front.

Some of Haque's musical heritage came to the fore as the set moved on, as a brisk tempo was set and sustained by the guitarist's vocalism, which seems to be a kind of scat singing, more rhythnic than melodic, inspired by music that goes with bhangra dancing native to the Punjab. Haque is of Chilean and Pakistani ancestry, and has done much in his career to put a firm basis and virtuosity into the broad genre known as world music.

Accompanying chops from both  melody/harmony players proved to be topnotch, starting with the Theme from "Black Orpheus." Haque and Monaco paid each other the respect of supporting their colleague's solo, as Phelps drove the unit and made the most of exchanges with guitar and organ near the end; he had a  surplus of energy and ideas left for an unaccompanied flourish before the out-chorus.

After another fast standard tune, I was hoping for a slow blues, but a fast blues was more than acceptable. It was Haque's "Furry Slippers," with the composer stringing together long chains of rapid notes, all brilliantly articulated.  Phelps was once again on fire, and it was almost with relief to next get a ballad, the jazz evergreen "'Round Midnight," starting with a meditative guitar cadenza. Phelps applied soft mallets to the drums, and Monaco permitted himself an episode of skating-rink organ. Haque displayed his judicious way of contrasting slow-paced and note-thick phrases in a well-designed solo.

Another Hammond B-3 master, Joey DeFrancesco, once ended a brief chat to a Jazz Kitchen audience by saying "we've got more of this groovin' music for you." That's the most concise way to indicate what the organ trio does best. And so the Monaco-Haque-Phelps trio delivered another fast blues, funkier than the previous one, with the audience encouraged to contribute rhythmic hand claps. Eventually, a two-note riff punched out by guitar and organ gave the drummer another chance to illuminate the club, and a "churchy" coda by Monaco turned out to be a fully appropriate way to generate a standing ovation. It was "more of this groovin' music."

[Photo by Rob Ambrose]

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