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The New Cool: Revisiting pianist Alex Monfort

Abe Beeson
Alex Monfort's trio on a boat on the Seine River during my trip to Paris last year.

Paris-based pianist and composer Alex Monfort recently reminded me that it's been two years since the release of his excellent trio album Introspection. A little over a year ago, Monfort made his Seattle debut at Tula's. Hear Monfort on The New Cool Saturday, and listen close for a chance to win a copy of the CD.I'm still in contact with Monfort, who's been spending some of his quarantine time in Paris working on electronic productions for his hip-hop friends. Stay tuned for more from this versatile young talent, and enjoy my review of Introspection from last year.

French pianist Alex Monfort honors his jazz heroes on this trio release. Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea are all on the list of legends who inspire him, but Monfort makes his own statements here. This is modern jazz piano that brings the legacy of jazz into the 21st century.

The album's a strictly acoustic affair, and might stand out to The New Cool's fans of Hammond organ, Fender rhodes and the world of synths — which you'll hear plenty of this week. The modern edge on Introspection is a subtle one.

The Alex Monfort Trio adds Rafael Aguila Artega's tenor sax and Jorge Vistel's trumpet to "Mc Coltrane." A clever nod to pianist McCoy Tyner's work with the sax icon, it's modern jazz in the same mold as Seattle's post-bop groups led by Thomas Marriott, Matt Jorgensen and others.

Monfort swings hard on "Mulgrew's Mood," for the late great Jazz Messengers pianist Mulgrew Miller. Bass and drums from Samuel F'hima and Tom Peyron push hard toward the envelope, but not too much.

"Body Without Soul" hints at the well known jazz standard, but dances away with the style of Chick Corea's always-fresh piano fashion. Softly pulsing from underneath is Peyron's brush work, while F'hima takes a nice solo, which recalls bassist Gary Peacock of the Jarrett Trio.

The lone ballad, "Prelude to Someone," is similarly straight ahead and tender. Another showcase for F'hima's bass, Monfort's piano work is almost minimalist. More Brad Mehldau than Ethan Iverson in it's modern feeling, melody and beauty take the lead here.

Finally, the lead off title song — yep, we end with the beginning — "Introspection" veers as close to modern innovators (The Bad Plus, E.S.T.) as A.M.T. dares. Swing is still the thing, in a Bill Evans/Keith Jarrett mode with emphasis on the hooky melody. The composition's interesting rhythmic structure recalls the post bop energy of the early 60s, but bends and snakes further and further like a puzzle that keeps adding pieces.

This is a straight-ahead jazz album, don't be surprised to hear the A.M.T. mixed into your blend of Miles, Brubeck, Ella and the rest on KNKX. And remember that you don't need to stray too far from the jazz tradition to develop a uniquely modern sound. It all has a home on The New Cool.

Listen close to the show Saturday afternoon for your chance to win a copy of Introspection from the Alex Monfort Trio. Good luck, and thanks for listening!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.