Album Review and lick analysis – Monk – Peter Bernstein
The music of Thelonious Monk is music which evokes many different emotions and ideas in a huge demographic of musicians and instrumentalists. With that in mind, the emotions and ideas evoked by legendary jazz guitarist, Peter Bernstein, in this showcase album range from childish playfulness, faithful to the source of the music, to coherent and thorough modern jazz playing in the upper echelons of technical and interactive ability.
It’s been noted previously in reviews, at the time of the album’s release, that a collection of Monk tunes by a guitarist is a rare occurrence that was a huge breath of fresh air to all those who knew about its existence. I’ve never heard such faithful music made with such individualism and taste without any sense imitation. This is most definitely Bernstein plays Monk and not the other way around.
Play the tune you are playing, not the changes of the tune
Through his music, Bernstein demonstrates this point very clearly and I think it’s something that we often overlook in our practice and playing as jazz musicians.
The word contrafact is a common one in modern jazz. Many tunes are based upon the changes of an older, wiser tune. Take “Koko” By Charlie Parker and “Subconscious-Lee” by Konitz, these are based on the changes of two classic standards, “Cherokee” and “What is This Thing Called Love” respectively. Yet the melodic content of both these tunes is totally different to the original standard they are based on. This should affect your improvisation in exactly the same way - the melodic content of your solo should differ according to the melody. Bernstein mentions this concept in a YouTube video about his attitude to tackling Monk’s music (). I think he definitely ‘walks the walk’ when you listen to how closely involved with the melody he remains in his solos on this album. He is definitely not just playing altered licks on a Monk chord progression.
This album has been one of my staple listens since I discovered it a couple of years ago. Bernstein evokes such an understated class in most things he plays and this, coupled with a complete and thorough facility on the guitar, gives you a winning formula. Namely, an overall sense of interaction and freedom which is exactly the vibe a Monk tune must exude.
Bernstein in a trio is always a joy to listen to as he manages to create such a rich harmonic texture from just a few well-placed double stops and the occasional interwoven counterpoint in certain key areas of a tune, for example, the B section of “In Walked Bud.”
Have a listen to the way he plays the head of “Let’s Cool One”, “Panonnica” and “In Walked Bud”. Notice how he uses double stops and simple three note chords to outline the harmony – he particularly uses the interval of a tone in his playing to create a sudden dissonance – something that Monk regularly and instinctively did in his piano playing. Playing a melody in this style on the guitar is really affective and something definitely worth looking into. It’s very hard to find the perfect balance between a chord-melody style, similar to Joe Pass’ playing, and a single note melody but this middle-ground is very enticing to listen to and fun to play.
The first track, “Let’s Cool One”, has become something of a cult favourite in the jazz guitar world. It is a master class in economy and phrasing, not to mention a perfect transcription project for those of us who would like to learn more about the altered scale and it’s many uses.
Having transcribed this tune, I have included a short 4 bar section with a couple of really awesome licks in it!
His solo break begins with an amazing and technically challenging altered lick using 3rds and enclosures and finally landing on the 9th of the Ebmaj7 chord in the next bar.
If you are lacking in altered dominant licks resolving to the 9th then this is the lick for you.
The second lick uses an Ab maj7 arpeggio on to outline all the natural extensions of the dominant (Bb).
- Ab = b7th of Bb7
- C = 9th of Bb7
- Eb = 11th of Bb7
- G = 13th of Bb7
This is a very useful and applicable thing to use in your own playing and is a handy trick for playing on any dominant in any key.
He finishes off the lick by including the #5 and then plays a diatonic enclosure on the 6th of the tonic chord (Eb).
If you are lacking in licks using arpeggios and resolving to the 6th then this is the lick for you.
To recap what we’ve covered in this post –
- We’ve learnt how important it is to consider the melody when you are improvising on any tune – but Monk tunes in particular.
- We’ve looked at how Bernstein uses harmonic and intervallic textures when he’s playing a head.
- We’ve analysed two of his licks in depth.
- We’ve taken what we saw when analysing his licks and learn new concepts for practicing improvising.
I hope this review and post has been useful and I’ll be back with another article for you next month!
About the author
Luke Adams is a session guitarist and jazz musician based in Cardiff, Wales. He’s currently studying for a degree in Jazz Guitar from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is taught by some of the top musicians in the UK. He regularly performs around the UK with various professional projects whilst also composing original music and performing with his own contemporary jazz trio – 2alike. Luke is also a keen writer and tutor both online and in 1-1 lessons.
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