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CD Review: Tony Monaco "The Definition of Insanity

Tony Monaco – Hammond B3 organ, piano, accordion, vocals

Derek DiCenzo – Guitar

Tony McClung – Drums

Asako Monaco – Piano (4)

On the highly enjoyable The Definition of Insanity, organist Tony Monaco infuses a variety of tunes with his signature soulfulness and effervescent passion. He even showcases his skills on other keyboard instruments, and on a few instances, his smooth vocals.

For instance, Monaco transforms the 1962 Italian pop hit “Quando, Quando, Quando” from a lightweight song to a warm and engaging jazz piece with his vibrant spontaneity. Keeping with the Italian theme he switches to an accordion as he accompanies himself crooning the folkish “Non Ti Scordar Di Me.” He also emotively sings “Never Let Me Go” while his wife, pianist Asake Monaco, complements his dense and resonant Hammond B3 chords with her crisp and clear cascading notes. Monaco brings the same virtuosity to both organ and piano on singer/songwriter Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.”

Things really get “cooking” when Monaco stretches out on the longer tracks—the most intriguing of which, perhaps, is the Levantine-tinged “Awa Athar.” The Monaco original unfurls over drummer Tony McClung’s agile and restless beats. The tense organ lines glow with fiery energy against guitarist Derek DiCenzo’s sparse and blistering strums. DiCenzo demonstrates his improvisational chops on organist (and Monaco’s mentor) Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down.” He coaxes out of his strings melodic lines that are simultaneously clever and funky.

Monaco and the trio also take on rock classics. Their interpretation of The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” is bluesy, exuberant and hypnotic. DiCenzo and Monaco take turns in the spotlight with whimsy and eloquence as McClung lays down a muscular, swaggering groove. Similarly, Phish’s “Cars Trucks Buses” balances well its kaleidoscopic origins and Monaco’s earthy, simmering style. It also allows McClung to take centerstage with a thunderous and exhilarating solo.

The Definition of Insanityhas enough diversity to remain delightfully intriguing while maintaining its thematic unity. This is primarily thanks to Monaco’s masterful artistry and his high-caliber musicianship. In sum, this is an album that should have a wide, satisfying appeal to both casual listeners and jazz purists.

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