Recording of the Week,
O'Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane
An album of Monk and Coltrane interpretations by a couple of London’s finest players… that’ll do nicely on this grey October afternoon. Dave O’Higgins is a well-established saxophonist, having played with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Nancy Wilson and Martin Taylor, and notably appeared in Sinatra’s final run of UK performances at the Royal Albert Hall in 1992. Rob Luft is in his early twenties and already regarded as one of the most talented guitarists out there. Not having heard a great deal of either player I am particularly impressed with the lightness of touch on display for Play Monk & Trane, helped by the well-chosen tracks.
Coltrane’s Naima opens the album, a tune that can risk becoming hackneyed in lesser hands, but thankfully there is nothing perfunctory about this duo performance. Starting with quasi-ambient guitar washes from Luft, O’Higgins then states the tune in a straightforward manner. The meat of the track is some fine improvising between the two, demonstrating just how attentively both players are listening to each other as they intertwine their lines seamlessly. Take a listen to Trinkle Tinkle as an example of just how much fun they’re clearly having – which is exactly as it should be with Monk’s music. Modern players have these once daunting charts in their DNA these days, and O’Higgins and Luft toss the melodies around with ease and playfulness. The choice of Scott Flanigan on organ, also covering the bass parts in Jimmy Smith tradition, helps to keep a nice tight sound, and brings fresh timbres that neither Monk nor Coltrane really covered to any great extent. Rod Youngs’s drumming keep the tricky patterns flowing without diluting their power, whilst locking in with the organ to keep things swinging. Spring is Here isn’t actually a Coltrane tune (it’s a Richard Rodgers song from the thirties), but he made it his own on 1958’s Lush Life, and here it features some nice interplay between Flanigan and Youngs in the mid-section, with some especially splashy cymbals.
Monk’s Locomotive gets a lush reading, Luft’s dreamy lines floating magnificently over the rhythm section, and O’Higgins adds some touching Coltrane-esque inflections to a piece that as far as I am aware the two men never played together (although feel free to prove me wrong). Locomotive is reprised as the final track, in a stripped-down duo version lasting under a minute, on which Luft plays some deliberately stiff acoustic guitar chords beneath O’Higgins simple statement of the theme. Let’s hope this team record similarly themed projects… how about Dexter Gordon and Bud Powell next?