Thelonious Monk’s music presents a challenge for any jazz musician, but the going can be especially rough on guitarists. The songs are often physically scaled for the piano: those sharp intervals and tangled clusters don’t fall as naturally on a fretboard.
So Peter Bernstein faces a basic hurdle with Monk (Xanadu/The Orchard), his vigorous new album. To his credit, the translation goes almost unnoticed. What sticks out instead is his soulful affinity to the material and the dapper chatter of his partners, Doug Weiss on bass and Bill Stewart on drums.
On much of the album the trio delivers on a promise of buoyancy, swinging as hard as the music demands. Elsewhere, on ballads like “Monk’s Mood” and “Reflections,” Mr. Bernstein plays alone, exploring a host of harmonic microvariations. And any listener still awarding degree-of-difficulty points can look to “Work” and “Brilliant Corners,” which arrive in sequence, like a couple of speed bumps