One of the most satisfying ways jazz can enliven itself is with unusual instrumental combinations. Cellist Matthew Brubeck and guitarist David Widelock embark on their third duo record, Monk/Not Monk,
with a pared-down string instrumentation distinguishing them from the vast sea of piano trios and horn quartets. It's a very effective combination. Brubeck can hold down the low end with arranged or walking basslines, yet step up for chordal accompaniment or high-end soloing. Widelock's playing is also quite versatile, allowing for space in the precious midrange while providing a harmonic framework and singing solo work. The fine sound quality on Monk/Not Monk
reveals the details of their interplay through an exceptionally warm and well-resolved image.
Monk tunes make up a quarter of the twelve tracks on this record; the rest range from Miles Davis to the Beatles. However, the contrapunctal spirit of Monk shines through in all the pieces. Whether arranged or improvised, Brubeck and Widelock engage in a dynamic interplay which never settles down into formation for long. Versatility and sensitivity are the key words here. Whether communicating the melancholy sweetness of Davis's "Nardis" or the jaunty blues of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" (with slide guitar), the duo find unusual and intriguing approaches. Monk/Not Monk is a real winner of a disc which continues to reward the listener after many spins on the CD player.
Beegum Records: 4685 Commonwealth Drive, Oakland CA 94605. Phone 510-638-8660.
Personnel: Matthew Brubeck, cello; David Widelock, acoustic and electric guitars.