Tony Monaco’s “Definition of Insanity” showcases superior Hammond skills

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Tony Monaco’s new album, “The Definition of Insanity” is a brilliant exploration of the sound of the Hammond organ. Playing as part of a quartet for his eleventh album as a leader, Monaco offers his talents as an organist, vocalist and pianist. He even adds accordion-playing to his contribution. Released in  January 2019, “The Definition of Insanity” has 11 songs that brim with their own electric vibe that does not sound crazy at all. Songs such as “Cars Trucks Buses” and “Root Down” (originally by Jimmy Smith) showcase some of the best work Monaco and his group have to offer.

About Tony Monaco and “The Definition of Insanity”

Monaco is based in Columbus, Ohio. The musicians he has selected for this latest album are among the best in Monaco’s hometown.

One listen to the album shows why Monaco needed the best musicians around to bring the songs to life. On “The Definition of Insanity” Monaco and his ensemble use a variety of genres from rock to bossa nova to traditional Italian songs to complete the project. On each, a saturation of sound draws audiences in. A series of classic, some better known to audiences than others, the songs on the recording have a clear, original vibe and are well-executed.

When he isn’t touring or recording, Monaco has a regular gig at a club in Columbus called “Monaco Monday.” During that weekday show, the musician typically attracts a younger crowd and their requests have led to an eclectic array of songs being added to Monaco’s repertoire. One such song, while not necessarily indicative of a younger crowd, is The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin.'” There is a version of that song on “The Definition of Insanity.”

Sometimes Monaco is joined in performances by his wife, Asako. She appears on this recording as well.

Monaco is joined on the recording by Derek DiCenzo on guitar, Tony McClung on drums and Asako Monaco on piano on “Never Let Me Go.”

“Root Down”: Tony Monaco

The opening notes set the tone for the piece. The guitar and organ exchange might remind some listeners of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.”

The crisp drumming on top of the bass and organ will encourage dancing in those who are given to doing so. The satisfying arrangement of chords  makes the song fun to listen. Once the interesting sounds begin to unfold from the very first note.

This Jimmy Smith original was made popular for some audiences by the Beastie Boys. Fans of jazz and jazz fusion will find Monaco’s version more than satisfactory.

“Cars Trucks Buses” by Tony Monaco

A tune written by Page McConnell of the rock band Phish, “Cars Trucks Buses” even in the Hammond-infused treatment Monaco gives it has a rocking feel that only grows as all the song elements work their way in.

Early in the song, an almost hiccupping element defines the organ. It is as if the picking style used for a guitar has been applied to the Hammond. Then, longer notes find their way into the piece. A drum roll ushers in a guitar tone that complements the organ. The guitar’s strident, rhythmic sounds add to the song’s rock-orientation. The Hammond begins to provide a rollicking array of notes. That “rollicking” turns completely dizzying before the song is over. At this point, all the song elements are in full bloom and it is difficult to tell where the jazz begins and the rock ‘n’ roll ends and vice versa. But it is also difficult to care. The energy is off the charts and all the elements add something irresistible to the song. A masterwork of sorts.

“The Definition of Insanity” is a fun title for a recording that demonstrates a musician’s attention to craft. Monaco and his ensemble have put together songs that bristle with liveliness and style. This recording should find its way on critics’ best of the year lists.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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