It’s right there in the title “Heavens to Monkitroid,” the lively, boppin’ and wildly improvisational Thelonious-esque romp that opens Jazz Words, the first album by veteran pianist Steve Million to feature all originals, featuring the rangy and emotionally resonant vocals of Sarah Marie Young.
The very personal and heartfelt eight song collection could be named “tale of two Monk semi-finalists, 22 years apart; Million earned the designation at the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition in 1988, and Young – later a winner of the 2011 Montreux Voice Competition – received the nod at the 2010 Monk competition.
The enduring Monk influence lives and breathes throughout via Million’s crafty chords and idiosyncratic timing/offbeat tempos – particularly on the all at once wistful, reflective, whimsical and hopeful homages to his daughters “Missing Page” (12/8) and “Nika’s Changes” (5/4). But those tunes and others like “Hymnal” (a gracefully soulful meditation on 9/11) and “Loss” (a powerful reflection on Million’s divorce from his first wife) are also notable for their vulnerability (polished performance of raw emotions) and the way they invite us into the pianist’s interior life via the narratives he paints for Young to so artfully convey.
Capped with a sensual closer that reflects his philosophy on the importance of discovering our inner truth, Jazz Words is, besides being an exquisitely played and arranged project, a collection of uncommon heartfelt openness. Coinciding with the release of Jazz Words is Million’s latest instrumental album What I Meant To Say. Whether he’s using lyrics or not, he’s got, to use a pun on his name, a million tales to tell.