Clifford Allen, AllAboutJazz.com
Amanda Monaco's debut as a leader is a welcome one.
In jazz, a relative paucity of standout players has made the guitar an instrument ripe for the
development of an interesting dialect. By nature, this paucity allows for a greater degree of individuality - there are many Freddie Hubbards but far fewer Attila Zollers. Amanda Monaco, a relative newcomer on the New York front, has studied with guitarists Ted Dunbar and Kenny Burrell, as well as pianist-
composers Harold Mabern and Kenny Barron, and
following work with a trio and the off-kilter cabaret music of the Lascivious Biddies (with whom Monaco still plays), she formed the iconoclastic quartet heard here in 2001.
Joined by tenorist Jason Gillenwater, bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Jeff Davis, the quartet romps through nine originals by Monaco, ranging from spry post bop numbers to free improvisation. Monaco's guitar playing is well within the modernist canon, but quite distinctive: her phrasing is often made up of tartly dissonant chords and insistent yet off-kilter repetitions that remind one of Grant Green by way of Andrew Hill. She also has a tendency to solo out of tempo, frequently hanging pensively behind the rhythm section; luckily, her band is willing to follow these leads, causing most tunes to end on a decidedly different plane whence they began (see "Gaza Strip Mall" for a particularly fine example of this). Monaco is also more of a melodic than a chordal player; this, coupled with the absence of a piano, lends greater freedom to the proceedings than might be the case
otherwise. Gillenwater takes the most advantage of this setting; he's a gifted improviser with a tendency for gutbucket honks and squawks, and reminds me of a young and fiery Joe Henderson or possibly Tony Malaby (though Wayne Shorter comes out in a few of the guitar-tenor unison themes). However, he does take more solo space than the leader, and at times his playing sounds a little forced. The compositional bag is rather varied; thematically "Gaza Strip Mall" is probably the most interesting piece here, consisting of a sketchy yet stately middle-eastern folk melody, and featuring the aforementioned solo by Monaco and a firey excursion by Gillenwater. "Go Lightly" and "D" are solid post bop numbers, though the soloing tends to outweigh their somewhat standard themes. The group does sound a bit self-conscious on the free "Speedy Green", as if it was a brief attempt to play 'out'. Freedom, in the context of this record, seems to work far better when it builds out of a piece, as in "Gaza". Furthermore, clocking in at nine tunes and just over 50 minutes lends an all-too-brief quality to some of the pieces. Brevity is sometimes a worthwhile
quality, but with players like Monaco and Gillenwater, a bit more stretching room might help their efforts.
In sum, Amanda Monaco's debut as a leader is a welcome one. Her playing is utterly unique, a breath of fresh air in the cookie-cutter climes of both
mainstream and free jazz. Gillenwater, too, is a
powerful voice on his instrument; given time, he could really peel some paint. Hopefully, their next release will erase the few shortcomings here and provide a better idea of the improvisational fortitude that these players obviously have.
Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
"A most impressive debut from a fine new jazz quartet."
I've become a friend of local jazz guitarist and teacher Amanda Monaco over the past few years and I'm pleased to report on her fine new debut release. I am unfamiliar with the other members of her solid quartet, but it seems she has chosen them wisely. "d." swings hard and quick and has an infectious instantly memorable theme, Amanda has rich, round tone with no distortion to clutter her sound. Both her bassist and drummer take short intense solos, an interesting choice for an opening tune. "ring-a-ling" has an exquisite melody and I dig the way Amanda plays with the song with such restraint while the drummer spins quickly beneath. On "gaza strip mall", she balances beautifully between single notes and well placed chords telling a
story with her solo, the explosive rhythm team burning below an inspired tenor solo. "quickie" has a one of those Masada-like middle-eastern melodies and both the guitar and sax take great solos which start slowly and build to strong conclusions. "go lightly" is aptly titled as it has a dreamy, haunting theme, with a fine lyrical bass solo and tasty tenor solo. The closing tune is "huunuu" and the
rhythm team do a spirited job of spinning and pushing both soloists higher as they tell their short story-like solos. A most impressive debut from a fine new jazz quartet. If this were on the Fresh Sounds label, no doubt the NY Times would give it a nice review, or maybe WBGO will give it a spin. Who knows stranger things have happened to less deserving debuts.