Peter Bernstein - Monk


Release date: January 13th 2009

Availability: CD, MP3 Download, iTunes

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For his first album as leader in over four years, guitarist Peter Bernstein is partnered by Doug Weiss (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) in a pianoless trio playing twelve compositions by Thelonious Monk.

The dangers of attempting to prettify Thelinious Monk's work are evident. The point, of course, is that Thelonous Monk's compositions are meant to be angular, off kilter, a challenge to conventional ideas of meter and harmony even as they are firmly based in the essence of the blues. So, in great performances like those captured for posterity such as "Live At The It Club" or on DVD as "Live In '66" it is very clear how inherent the eccentricity of the great man's approach is to the whole idea behind his music.

That has not stopped generations of jazz musicians drawing on Thelonious Monk compositions as jumping off points for their own inspiration but most have preferred piano or saxophone plus piano as a core proposition. With Peter Bernstein dispensing with piano on this album and playing more like Jim Hall than the Peter Bernstein of "Somethin's Burnin'", "Freedom In The Groove" or "Moonbird", the question is just how well does he manage to avoid the "prettifying" trap?

In short, Peter Bernstein is too good a guitarist not to succeed with this challenge. The twelve Thelonious Monk compositions ("Let's Cool One", "Pannonica", "Work", "Brilliant Corners" , "In Walked Bud", "Monk's Mood", "Well You Needn't", "Bemsha Swing", "Played Twice", "Ruby, My Dear", "Blues 5 Spot" and "Reflections") retain enough of their jagged edges to remain true to the spirit of the music. "Monk's Mood" and "Ruby, My Dear," are taken as solo guitar pieces while "Reflections" is solo guitar with overdubbed guitar backing. In the trio pieces Bill Stewart's drumming is a model of convention and restraint. The best jazz here is the strong uptempo takes on "Well You Needn't", "In Walked Bud" and "Bemsha Swing" and the effective slower ballad version of "Pannonica".

While in the end no substitute for the real thing, this is an affectionate and warm album that sheds a new guitar-orientated light on Thelonious Monk's genius.

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