Monkey House – ‘Friday’ (2019)
I’ve had Monkey House’s new record Friday for weeks but have put off reviewing the album, even as it rose to No. 1 on the jazz charts.
Part of my hesitancy was I doubted Don Breithaupt and his brainy bunch of band mates could live up to the impossibly high standards set by their 2016 release Left. It’s no coincidence that Left made my Top 10 list for 2016. Breithaupt is a brilliant writer with a keen melodic sense which never is cliche, yet is highly accessible.
“10,000 Hours” starts off with a conventional jazz-rock vibe that didn’t immediately draw me in. Yet by the time the horns appear and Breithaupt’s voice comes on scene, I was drawn deep into the rabbit hole. The Monkey House rhythm section kicks it hard and guest guitarist Michael Lettieri of Snarky Puppy continues the vibe. The concluding rave up is worth the price of admission alone.
“Nine O’Clock Friday” touches on Steely Dan and Bob Dylan with its lyrics. Breithaupt delivers a straight-forward and deceptively simple narrative. Mid-song changes keep things interesting on this mid-tempo ditty, and then guest guitarist Drew Zingg from the Steely Dan touring band hammers home the theme. Organ, piano and the horns harken back to the heyday of ’70s-era jazz-rock.
“Shotgun,” the second single from the album, features Peter Cardinali on bass. The song runs along at a jaunty clip. The horns and keyboard create vision of a fast-paced California coastal ride with you and that special someone. Lyrically, “Shotgun” isn’t coy about the passengers’ intent. All in all its a fun R&B-laced trip.
“Book of Lairs” the album’s advance song, is so good that it brings a tear to my eye. When I most recently interviewed Don Breithaupt, he talked about his motivation for including the song. This version is pure audio joy, capped off by solos from tenor trumpeter Francois D’Amou and Breithaupt on piano.
“The Jazz Life” is not as successful. The groove works just fine and the harmonies provided by the Manhattan Transfer are superb, as expected. But lyrically and musically, the song lacks a smokey vibe warranted by the subject matter. Even the tasty bass solo seems to be an afterthought.
On the other hand, Monkey House’s “When the Mud Man Comes” has the harmonic richness of a Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers song, and the lyric twists of Donald Fagen’s best material. Bassist/coproducer Pat Cardinali’s fretless work is only rivaled by Justin Abedin’s powerfully melodic guitar. Don Breithaupt’s piano solo is too little of good thing, leaving the listener wanting more.
“Island Off the Coast of America” is a moderately passed shuffle with lush horns and siren-like backing vocals by Lucy Woodward. Long-term Steely Dan sideman Michael Leonhart delivers a touch of New York City with his muted trumpet solo.
Friday takes the listener on a fabulously vibrant musical journey, again pushing Monkey House to new musical heights. What more can we ask? How about a tour stop nearby?