Countless musicians have tackled the songs of Thelonious Monk, but it's arguably a rare performer who comes out just as angular and quirky as the man himself. When two such voices join together, both sharing an excellent feel for his tricky offbeat sensibility, it's a distinctly unusual pleasure.
Through the brief half-hour of Ugly Beauty,Kadi Vija and Lucas Dann manage to pay loving respect exploring the skewed nooks of Monk's pieces while improvising their way through to their own perspective. Dann understands that this music's sense of timing is as important as the chords being played. His piano accompaniment ably grounds itself in the stride and bebop of their source material, always willing to bounce along and keep the proper skewed sense of harmonics. For her part, Vija generally uses her voice like the soloist's right hand. She scats and chirps in a sprightly vocalese up and down the scales while keeping a keen awareness of how much each piece offers room for playfulness.
Familiar songs or not, such a performance can only be unpredictable. "Boo Boo's Birthday" sounds like a sequence of drunken staggers at first, but the simpatico pair manage it all in uncanny unison. With the jumpy "In Walked Bud," they're more in the mood for a dialogue back and forth. It's not hard to picture the two looking at each other as they stagger beats, faking starts and almost daring each other to slip out of step. However they're arranged, these treatments are Monkian in the best sense: fun and surprising, seemingly messy on the surface, but rich in detail and unerringly precise underneath.