My favorite local book (and CD) store Pages for All Ages recently sprouted a bunch of Enja reissues in its "new" jazz releases section, including Coleman Hawkins' "Supreme," which I wrote about the other day. While I thought "Supreme" was worthwhile, I'm prepared to rave about "Thelonica," Tommy Flanagan's tribute to Thelonious Monk, recorded not long after Monk's death in 1982.
Flanagan, Ella Fitzgerald's favorite pianist as well as the keyboard man on Sonny Rollins' landmark "Saxophone Colossus," doesn't play anything like Monk in covering eight of Monk's songs. (No. 9, the title track, is Flanagan's tribute to Monk.) He plays like Tommy Flanagan, eminently skilled and near classically with none of (or not much anyway) Monk's fascinating and sometimes unnerving erraticism.
And yet, Monk comes through clearly on tunes such as "Reflections" and "Ugly Beauty" and Flanagan also captures Monk's essence in "Thelonica." That a pianist so divergent from Monk can render his music so well is a tribute both to Flanagan's ability and to Monk's compositional genius. George Mraz on bass and Art Taylor on drums are perfect in support. Might be my pick for the must-have Tommy Flanagan CD.