Elliott Sharp might have once been described as a skinny kid from Cleveland, Ohio who has come to steal your women and drink your beer. But that, my friends, was a long time ago. A graduate of the New York Downtown scene of the 1980s and 1990s, Sharp has branched out into string quartets, hard-core blues, electronics, orchestral music and soundtracks. His interests and imagination are never exceeded by his grasp.
That's why his take on five classic Thelonious Monk tunes has the possibility for new insight. Sharp recorded Sharp? Monk? Sharp! Monk!
as a solo acoustic guitar performance. Gone are the computer effects, noise, feedback and general mayhem his devotees have come to cherish. But with one pick and ten fingers, he takes Monk for a ride around his very eclectic block.
While Monk's music will always be the universal Monk
, Elliott Sharp in this context spins the tracks as fingerpicking folk music. Where "Bemsha Swing begins as a country yarn, it swings less Charlie Rouse and more Woody Guthrie. Sharp's immersion into American folk and blues with his Terraplane band certainly has an effect when he puts his Monk on.
Epistrophy dances across the guitar neck at recognizable, then utterly unrecognizable speed. Sharp's ballet with Monk can be a gunshot calling for you to "dance like mad" or he can whisper sweet blues. In places like this, Monk purists may demur at the pyrotechnics, but that's just Sharp being Sharp. Where else can you hear Monk played in slide guitar mode?
Jazz history does judge on one trackthat is, of course, "Round Midnight. Just as every singer must cover "Misty, this Monk signature tune is a benchmark in the end. Sharp scores here with an almost straight rendering, except for bits of a Spanish tinge!