Over the past couple of decades, Bobby Broom has proven himself to be an amazing musician and fascinating guitarist on weekly gigs, both solo, and with the awesome Deep Blue Organ Trio. Throw in playing time with Sonny Rollins and you've got a guy who's played with the best and learned from the best.
It's no wonder that his discography has found him moving all over the place, from an attempt to recreate the Benson Cookbook band, to an album made up entirely of sixties and seventies pop tunes that cast a few of those chestnuts in whole new lights.
His previous two solo efforts, both also on Origin records, found him playing with the same trio that plays here. The cohesiveness on display here is the byproduct of a band that has been gigging and recording steadily for a handful of years now.
Of course, it doesn't hurt your cause if you decide to base an entire CD on some of the most beloved work that has ever been produced in the jazz idiom. Bobby Broom Plays for Monk does not disappoint. This is exactly the disc that anyone in the know would expect it to be: excellent playing, effective arrangements and great soloing on some of the best tunes ever written.
As soon as I'd heard that this was Broom's next project, I got excited. After all, I've heard Bobby tear up everything from "The Little Rascals Theme" to "The Twelfth of Never." Monk tunes should be a free-for-all for this trio, and I was not let down in the least!
The most interesting part of Plays for Monk is the sheer number of ballads. "Ask Me Now," "Ruby My Dear," "Reflections" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" are all fantastic tunes, but I didn't necessarily expect to see them all pop up on one record.
Even more interesting is that Bobby Broom is brave enough to start off a record with a ballad. "Ask Me Now" is one of Monk's most endearing down-tempo tunes, and Broom takes it a hair or two quicker than its usual pace. The first thing you notice with Broom, Carroll and Watkins is how the groove is treated with absolute reverence.
There are no flourishes, no hits, pops, cracks or brilliant and wily substitutions to be found. It's all about establishing the groove. But then, in yet another brave move, the first solo taken on the disc isn't by Broom, but rather by bassist Dennis Carroll. Once Broom does start to solo, though, the results are splendid, and Broom takes his time to push things along. The pacing of "Ask Me Now" on this disc could not be more perfect.
Monk's classic, "Evidence," is up next. While Broom's playing here is fantastic, it's Carroll's groove that really sets this version apart from the hundreds of other recorded versions I've heard. Kicking off with an insistent bass line that won't quit, it fits amazingly well against one of Monk's most strangely interesting melodies.
By the time that Carroll and Watkins start swinging in earnest on the third chorus, an awful lot of tension is built up, and the release is just great. Watkins' solo here is understated, but it gets the point across, and quick: Kobie Watkins is a force to be reckoned with behind the drum kit, and he doesn't need very long to remind you of that.
In "Walked Bud" and "Bemsha Swing" both get a degree of funk treatments. "Bemsha Swing" starts off as a quasi-second line thing, then it gets downright funky for half a chorus before Watkins and Carroll dig in and start swinging. If you've heard the Medeski, Martin and Wood version of it, you'll understand where Broom and Company are coming from. "Walked Bud" was the real surprise, though. This is a funky, grooving and well thought out arrangement of the tune. What's more surprising is how natural "In Walked Bud" feels over this arrangement.
The big charmer on Bobby Broom Plays for Monk is the inclusion of "Work." One of the rarer entries in the Monk catalog, it's a great song that bares so many Monkisms that it's a shame that more musicians aren't hip to it. Luckily Broom is, and he milks the song for all its worth with an economic solo that evokes Monk with every rest, every oddly placed note and every not entirely normal run he plays.
It's a highlight of the disc, not only because "Work" was never overplayed, but also because Broom and the crew just play the snot out of it.
Of course, Monk did more than his fair share of other folks' music too, as witnessed by his love of solo treatments of some of the standards. Broom wisely tosses a couple of those Monk favorites into the mix as well. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is lush and beautiful, and a nod to Monk's solo albums that were stocked with great renditions of old classics. "Lulu's Back in Town" works better, at least for me, because it's more in keeping with the overall vibe of the record. It's loping treatment is charming and immensely enjoyable.
I am always excited whenever I see that Bobby Broom (or a group that he's a part of) is about to put out something new, because I know I'm going to be in for a major treat. And once again, I'm proven right by Bobby Broom Plays for Monk. It's the perfect blend of tunes we know, surprising arrangements and great playing. I highly recommend checking this one out, and sooner rather than later.