GARY BARTZ'S recordings haven't always been deemed successful, either by the critics or the public, but they've never been dull.
Nor is his latest album, "Reflections of Monk." It also happens to be one of his best -- a spirited, spiritual and rhythmically vigorous tribute to Thelonious Monk that finds the Baltimore-born alto and soprano saxophonist working with trumpeter Eddie Henderson, drummer Billy Hart, pianist Bob Butta, bassist Geoff Harper and others.
Hart's participation alone ensures the album's rhythmic integrity and momentum. Beginning with "Brilliant Corners" and carrying over into "Hackensack" and "Let's Cool One," he combines brash, swaggering rhythms and abrupt turns with passages of feather-light swing, creating just the right mood for Bartz's alternately stirring and soulful performances.
Brisk tempos and quirky harmonies often bring out the best in Bartz's playing, but for sheer emotional pull nothing on the album rivals his languid reading of "Crepuscule With Nellie." Elsewhere, sparks fly when Henderson and the rest of the rhythm section come vigorously to the fore, especially on the "Epistrophy" finale, while singers Jenelle Fisher and Mekea Smith add some poetic touches.
GARY BARTZ -- "Reflections of Monk" (Steeplechase). Appearing Friday and Saturday at Trumpets.