Honored as an NEA Jazz Master in early 2012, Jimmy Owens hasn't had the opportunity to lead very many record dates during a career dating back to the later 1950s. But when the trumpeter has entered the studio, he has made an impact, such as this all-star tribute to Thelonious Monk, which includes fellow Jazz Master Kenny Barron on piano, veteran tuba player Howard Johnson (who doubles on baritone sax), plus several outstanding younger musicians who have made their mark since arriving in more recent times: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. Owens arranged eight of the ten selections, finding ways to put a fresh stamp on each composition, while the players on the band's front line are all generously featured. The jagged "Brilliant Corners" incorporates Barron's bluesy piano interlude with the rhythm section, followed by Owens' jaunty trumpet and a hilarious conversation between the horns of Johnson, Gordon (utilizing a mute), Strickland, and the leader. Switching to flügelhorn, Owens' take of "Well, You Needn't" is introduced in a loping manner with long, spacious lines and a Latin backbeat, interspersing brief uptempo lines in spots as both the leader and Barron solo with gusto. Owens' warm flügelhorn is on display in a gorgeous, laid-back setting of the lovely ballad "Reflections" in a trio with Barron and Gordon. Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" is not recorded very often, but its humor is typical of the composer, with Strickland's robust tenor carrying the day. The two songs not scored by Owens are also choice charts. Aval Vilner's playful, breezy setting of "Bright Mississippi" is buoyed by the peppy brass ensemble and potent solos, while Jack Ramsey's arrangement of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" is based upon Monk's trio record with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, with a spirited horn ensemble over Kenny Davis' delicious walking bass, as Johnson (on tuba), Owens, and Gordon are all featured. While there have been numerous tributes to Thelonious Monk over the years, Jimmy Owens' The Monk Project is a cut above.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden