The Blue Monk - Saturday, July 22, 2006
Farnell Newton, Marcus Reynolds Quintet
Farnell Newton - Trumpet
Marcus Reynolds - Piano
Eric Gruber - Bass
Mark Diflorio - Drums
Devin Phillips - Tenor & Soprano Saxophones
It was a sweltering 100+ degree weekend, so the basement of the Blue Monk appealed, but I didn't know for sure if it had air conditioning. I wanted to see Farnell Newton and Marcus Reynolds enough, though, that I decided to go even if it didn't.
Farnell and Marcus are phenomenal and I love any of their musical collaborations, whether it be together or in other projects. For their Quintet, they gathered together a highly talented group, saxophonist Devin Phillips, drummer Mark Diflorio, and bassist Eric Gruber. Eric has been playing with them for a while now, and he and Marc play with Devin Phillips in his New Orleans Straight Ahead, so the three of them have a great deal of rapport.
Most of the music performed that night was original, and they played some tunes from their new CD Sense of Direction. They opened with Marcus's composition Two Larry's, the cleverly titled tribute to organists Young and Goldings. In his Blues for Bela, he takes a thrilling, extended solo and his hands fly over the keyboard. Farnell, Devin and Marcus trade solos, with Mark punctuating their statements. Marcus later told me he wrote Blues for Bela for Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, explaining that the opening motif reminds him of the angular themes he used in his string quartets. Marcus is a studied composer/musician.
Farnell's Lover's Groove is a lush beauty. Marcus breaks into a Latin rhythm, backing Farnell's sweet tone. Farnell has incredible chops. He can play Straight Ahead,
Afro-Cuban, Hip-Hop and Salsa, and his influences are broad, Freddie Hubbard, Louis Armstrong, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Lifesavas, Stravinsky, to name a few.
Farnell announces that Devin's going to be featured on a tune of his choice and Devin confers with the band and surprisingly chooses Stella by Starlight. Surprising because he can play New Orleans style jazz and funk, and yet this young musician decides on an old standard. Not surprising is that he makes it his own. Devin's musical ideas, stamina and ability for long solos are impressive.
The Bluest Eyes, composed by Farnell, is gorgeous, and listening to it, my thought was that it should become a standard. Eric sounded like Christian McBride, which is a compliment. To close their set they played a lively un-named New Orleans song, with Devin on soprano sax, and Mark deftly handling the syncopated beat.
Standards filled the second set, Cedar Walton's Bolivia, Monk's Straight, No Chaser, and Miles' So What. A young, visiting trumpet player sat in, choosing, There Will Never be Another You. Marcus told me later that Devin said he wasn't sure he knew that one and then "proceeded to absolutely kill it" (which is a positive thing).
This was an exciting evening and there were lots of heads bobbing and toes tapping, and I wasn't the only one bopping around in my seat. These guys play with verve, are superb musicians, and they swing. I can't wait to hear them again.
The Blue Monk is located at 3341 SE Belmont St. Music starts at 9:00 pm and the cover is usually $6. It's non-smoking and the food is excellent.