Tony Monaco Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tony Monaco Trio


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The Hammond B-3 organ inspires extroversion, thanks to its enormous and protean sound, the opportunity for knuckle-busting speed afforded by the electronically assisted keyboard action, and the sheer adrenaline kick of playing three lines at once using the two manuals and the bass pedals. But even among organ improvisers, Tony Monaco stands out, with an almost ferocious technique that echoes the style of jazz organ's prime mover, Jimmy Smith, and that rivals Joey DeFrancesco's playing for outsize virtuosity. And he applies it to a surprisingly eclectic repertoire: in addition to standards and jazz-organ classics, he's also recorded tunes by the Average White Band and Pat Metheny, as well as the swing chestnut "Apple Honey," made famous in the 40s by Woody Herman's First Herd. Monaco turned to the instrument only in desperation: in his teens, neuralgic amyotrophy withered his shoulder muscles and forced him to give up his first instrument, the accordion. A rare recurrence of the disease in his 30s left Monaco slightly crippled; he now walks with a cane. Much of Monaco's musical life has been spent as a sideline to a business career in his native Columbus, which may explain the ridiculously infectious energy that comes bursting out of the B-3's Leslie speaker every time he sits down to play; even a slow blues number crackles like a July thunderstorm. He didn't release his debut album (Burnin' Grooves, on Summit) until two years ago, at the age of 41, but it quickly caught on with radio programmers and organ aficionados around the country; on his latest, Intimately Live at the 5:01 (recorded at a hometown club), he stretches each tune to proportions that are invariably grand and only occasionally grandiose. But if there's one instrument made for going over the top, it's the B-3--and no one's putting it to better use than this guy. Friday, August 8, and Saturday, August 9, 9:30 and 11:30 PM, Green Dolphin Street, 2200 N. Ashland; 773-395-0066. NEIL TESSER

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