Monk lives! Perhaps it can be said that Thelonious Monk has had many lives. Ever since the unique pianist established his repertoire in the 1940s and '50s musicians have, probably beginning with saxophonist Steve Lacy, taken up the task of covering the now infamous music. With Plays for Monk, guitarist Bobby Broom delivers one of the finest Monk tributes to be released in quite some time.
Best known for his work with Sonny Rollins, the saxophonist asked Broom to join his band in the late '70s while Broom was still in high school. Broom respectfully declined, waiting until 1981. He played with Rollins for six years, rejoining him again in 2005, and can be heard on multiple recordings including Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy, 2008).
Besides Rollins, Broom has toured with Hugh Masekela, Charles Earland, Kenny Burrell, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Garrett, and Dr. John. His passion for jazz and blues has been realized in recordings for Criss Cross, Delmark and Origin Records?the latter on which he released Folk Music (2007) with his Deep Blue Organ Trio and The Way I Play, a live trio date with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins in 2008.
The trio of Broom, Carroll and Watkins has been a applying its craft for some thirteen years at weekly gigs in Evanston, Illinois. Its teamwork is evident here, playing the sometimes tricky Monk repertoire. The trio passes over simpler tunes like "Straight, No Chaser" and "Well, You Needn't" for more difficult and rewarding tunes. Maneuvering through "Evidence," with its tricky changes at breakneck speed, the trio deserves kudos for its nimble balancing and call-and-response handling of the composition.
Elsewhere the knowing response to this music is an affirmative yes, as the ballads "Ask Me Now" and "Reflections" are treated with an understated, delicate and endorsable touch.
Monk can be complicated or perplexing to the unknowing, yet in the hands of this trio, the music is simply effortless, sounding as straightforward and organic as it did flowing from the iconic pianist.
Broom and his trio do add some new flavors here, playing "Rhythm-a-ning" with a wee bit of funk, but still retaining its heavy swing. The same hard drive is heard on "Work" and "Bemsha Swing," which picks up a New Orleans second line groove.
There are also two tracks not credited to Monk, but definitely associated with the great one. It's hard not to hear "Lulu's Back in Town" or "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" without thinking of Monk playing solo. Broom plays "Lulu" with the trio, but handles "Smoke" alone, crafting the simple melody both as a raconteur and a keeper of the Monk flame.