The Blind Monk Trio have declared, right there, one of their sources of inspiration. If you think, however, that means you know what you’re going to get from the tenor of Bob Whittaker, bass of Hugo Harrison and drums of Johnny Hunter, think again.
As they ripped into Bemsha Swing, the bass laying down a funky riff to anchor the energetic attack of Whittaker, there was plenty of momentum, greeted with approving whoops and nods from the appreciative Tuesday night crowd at Matt and Phreds in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Whittaker’s solo explored hooky fragments of melody, throwing them out, moving them around, then sweeping them away with hoarse cries and polyphonic squawks. Johnny Hunter let fly sprinkling thoroughly contemporary bursts of drumming though a tumultuous solo. The introduction to another Monk theme sounded for all the world how The Stranglers might have played Monk, with the bass following a snaking horn line and an insistent rocky riff emerging that you could have jumped up and down to. The big fat tenor sound was show-cased further on Pure Imagination, the haunting ballad casting its spell over the bar-room clatter. They closed with an original, Three Blind Monks, a plaintive, chant like motif gradually building over a relaxed vamp, into a more intense declamatory statement.
The trio are regulars at Matt and Phreds and its not hard to see why they went down well at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival. Easy fluency, an instinctive understanding and plenty of engaging riffs made for an entertaining and energetic set. We should hope they’ll be seen beyond the North West soon.