"In many ways, Monk personifies all that attracted and continues to satisfy me in my love affair with jazz music," said Bobby Broom upon releasing Plays for Monk. "The way that he, the musician, fit into the jazz landscape while at the same time standing out and apart from it; the controlled but unpredictable creative freedom he spoke with as an improviser, and the variety of feelings he could conjure up; how, as a composer, his tunes were a clear reflection of his playing and musical personality and how those musical characteristics seemed to fit with the way he walked and talked, and even his personal style."
For Plays for Monk, recorded by the guitarist's longstanding trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins, Broom selected choice nuggets from Monk's considerable catalog, plus two popular standards which Monk often (and uniquely) rendered.
The first two?"Ask Me Now" and "Evidence"?immediately raise this crucial point: You must not only properly play the right chords and notes but also the spaces in between them to genuinely play Thelonious Monk's music. Broom and Watkins later demonstrate their masterful use of the space between them in the bass-less passages of "Rhythm-a-ning," and Carroll and Watkins in the elastic guitar-less sections of "In Walked Bud."
Broom plays his ensemble just as much as he plays Monk's music. He matches the rhythm challenges of "Evidence" by arranging it across the entire trio, chiseling out chords to frame its beginning and ending, then unraveling melodic improvisations that in turn set the stage for Watkins' own, quite melodic solo. "Ruby, My Dear," one of Monk's most famous ballads, seems to breathe as it very naturally, almost organically, unfolds and grows among the three musicians.
As a soloist, Broom pulls the blues out of "Reflections" and "Bemsha Swing" with playing that matches Monk's material?compact yet expressive, simultaneously abstract and impressionistic?while his improvisations in "Work" and "In Walked Bud" chop out bebop cool and hot.
Monk didn't write "Lulu's Back in Town," but you can hear from Broom's funky, wobbly blues version why it was one of Monk's favorite tunes. Broom closes with a solo journey through "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" that sounds like a message of love to Monk. He floats the melody upwards like smoke, or digs into more mysteriously shaded corners, or dances and twirls; but it's always beautiful.
Plays for Monk truly stretches Broom as arranger and instrumentalist because with the exception of some obscure live bootlegs from the late 1940s that feature the pianist with Charlie Christian, not one Monk recording includes guitar.