Thursday, December 19, 2019

Denton, 12.19.2019

I'd had plans to attend another show, but when I saw online that guitarist-composer Gregg Prickett's Mingus-inspahrd quintet Monks of Saturnalia -- my favorite band o' the moment, based on two Oak Cliff gigs I witnessed earlier this year -- would be performing at Sweetwater Grill and Tavern in li'l d (a hometown gig for bassist Drew Phelps and multi-reedist Jeff Barnes), I quickly changed 'em. (Any Denton excursion is also an excuse to crate-dig at Recycled Books and Records, my favorite place to record hunt that isn't the Princeton Record Exchange.)

The first time I caught these Monks, Barnes and tenorman Steve Brown hadn't yet had time to rehearse the material, and the second time, Barnes was absent and Brown was under the weather. This time, the unit had clearly had more time to become familiar with the charts and each other. The ensembles were cohesive, with areas of freedom within the structures, and first-time drummer Chris Holmes (whom I'd previously seen fill in for Frank Rosaly with the Young Mothers a couple of years back) providing the dynamic variation that this material demands.

The compositions are mostly by Prickett, and carry Mingusian titles like the opening "This Is A Lie, or The White Man's Truth," or the minor blues "(Not Because I Have To, But Just for the Hell of It) I Pledge Allegiance." Another title, "No, No Salt," comes from a dream that Phelps remembers Prickett recounting, where "I was about to be executed by a firing squad, and they asked me what I wanted for my last drink, and I said tequila, and they asked me if I wanted salt..."

A spaghetti Western-sounding theme of Phelps', which formerly galloped, now unfolds at a more leisurely pace, with a free section. The musicians played a minor key version of "Frosty the Snowman," Phelps said, "because we're good sports." There was also a bit of demented surf music worthy of Naked City, with Phelps on electric bass. Perhaps the night's most transcendent performance was the closing "Kika's Canon," inspired by the pack of wolves Prickett once lived with (really!), which featured Barnes soloing plaintively on soprano (earlier, he was also effective on bass clarinet), and Brown summoning the spirit of Booker Ervin.

Later, the tenorman expressed surprise that there'd been people dancing ("This is really our crowd," he enthused). Prickett said he might combine the Monks of Saturnalia with his classical-improv unit Trio du Sang for some shows, and indicated that they might be ready to record by mid-2020. Catch them if you can; you owe it to yourself. This material teems with life like the best Mingus compositions, and this lineup is packed with talent and just starting to hit their stride.


Post a Comment

<< Home