Thursday 13 August 2009

The Tony Monaco Organ Trio - Third Time's a Charm

After my recent whinging about festival ticketing troubles , it's nice to be actually writing a review. Last night saw me making what has now become a traditional Fringe outing down to the Jazz Bar on Chambers Street to hear the Tony Monaco Organ Trio.

I first encountered him two years ago. We'd had a particularly gruelling day at the Venue and had repaired to the fine Bow Bar on Victoria Street for much needed beer. One of our number got up after his first pint and announced he was off, when we enquired why, he said he was going to see this jazz gig. The general feeling was one of "well, why not", so we all wandered over to Chambers Street.

We were greeted by Tony Monaco and his Hammond Organ. Now, I know what you may be thinking: the Hammond Organ, really? But the answer is yes, really. Foot-tappingly brilliant and with a superb dollop of funk, he swept us all away. He was, in the words of David Clarke, our fine Technical Manager "just what the doctor ordered."

So, when we saw he was to return last year, needless to say we were near the head of the queue on opening night. This proved something of a mistake since it was one of the wettest nights I've experienced in Edinburgh: we stood in the queue getting soaked, which didn't stop when we got inside as the building was less watertight than would ideally have been the case. Given the number of people and the resultant heat, there was a not especially pleasant humid and tropical atmosphere. None of which would have mattered quiet so much if the rain hadn't also delayed Monaco's plane to the extent he missed half the set.

This year, on the other hand, we had opted to catch the final night. Given the lack of rain, the atmosphere was much more as it should have been. From the opening bars of their first number, it seemed like we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed.

Monaco then introduced his young band: Serbian drummer Vladimir Kostadinovic (whom he'd come across when he won a competition he was involved in judging) and guitarist Kevin Glasgow. He called in the band of his dreams. Now, call me jaded, but normally when I get a description like that I think, yeah, whatever. But in this case it genuinely seems true. This was a superbly balanced ensemble, all of whom were capable of soloing superbly and yet none completely upstaging the others. Kostadinovic was especially fine - not least for the demands Monaco put on his technique in one or two of the later numbers. Monaco says he wants to tour the world with them; anyone with any sense should book them.

As a band they all seemed to be having a tremendous time, Monaco especially, with his grinning and gleefully contorted face. Of course, it's perfectly possible for a band to have fun and sound rubbish at the same time (fortunately not the case here), but there's little worse than a band that seems like they really don't want to be there.

Monaco, however, is the star. The range of colours and textures he gets from the instrument is exceptional. So too the intensity of his playing. The last two numbers were extraordinary: first came some funk, then a number which called for such rapid drum work, it was little short of breathtaking. It was a shame they had to end there - the loud cheers of the crowd would clearly have justified more.

Still, the evening was being captured on tape (or, rather, on the hard disk of a macbook) for future CD release. It should be something special indeed and I can't wait for it.

As we left, there were some CDs on sale but the guy was unable to tell us the name of the one Monaco mentioned as featuring the funky song (we ourselves hadn't caught it). There was no choice then, David and I went back into the bar to ask the man himself: we thanked him for three years of superb music, complimented his band, hoped to see him next year and came away having bought copies of Tony Monaco - Live at the Orbit Room, which is spinning on the Hi-Fi as I write this. Oh, and we got to shake his hand.

All in all, it was a pretty good night, if it hadn't been his last I'd be telling you to go an see him; as it is, I'll just have to say buy the CD and turn up next year.

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