August 10, 2009
Thelonious Monk seems to bring out the best in Bobby Broom.
For though jazz listeners know Broom for the buoyant, blues-based sensibility of his guitar work, he attains a new degree of fervor in the music of Monk.
Certainly he did over the weekend at the Green Mill Jazz Club, where he celebrated the release of his latest CD, "Bobby Broom Plays for Monk" (Origin Records). Even more than on the recording, the Chicago guitarist addressed Monk with relentless intensity, leading the same explosive trio that's on the CD.
Though each of Broom's renditions of classic Monk invited deep emotional engagement, the finale of Friday night's first set proved the most satisfying. Here was a high-flying, free-spirited perspective on one of Monk's most famously propulsive tunes, "In Walked Bud."
Yet anyone who considered the piece overly familiar was in for quite a ride, as Broom and friends took the tune to places Monk never envisioned. At times, Broom so thoroughly transformed the melodic profile and rhythmic contours of the piece as to suggest a nearly new composition.
Still, the harmonic core of the original endured, as did its unstoppable forward drive. The copiousness of Broom's ideas -- as well as his tendency to express them in succinct, sculpted phrases -- attested to his stature as improviser.
But Broom was not alone in making this motor run. Drummer Kobie Watkins sounds more tautly wound, technically adroit and rhetorically inspired every time we hear him. During "In Walked Bud," he unleashed remarkable salvos of power and speed without veering into bombast.
And Dennis Carroll, a bassist for all occasions, played bigger and bolder than in most contexts, his sound wide open, his lines heroic in scale. Egged on by Broom, who leaned in to Carroll the way Miles Davis used to do with his bandmates, the bassist gave this trio sonic heft and depth. He also produced several rhapsodic solos.
Not that everything on this evening sounded quite so brawny. The trio made a jazz nocturne of "Ask Me Now," bassist Carroll's lithe phrases accompanied by Broom's softly arpeggiated chords and Watkins' gently articulated swing.
And in a Broom original, "Coming Home" (from his CD "Song and Dance"), the trio dug deeply into blues expression, particularly in the guitarist's searing, waste-not-a-note soliloquies.
By all indications, Broom is approaching a new plateau in his art. It will be fascinating to hear what more it yields.