by John Gaddis
Tackling the Thelonious Monk repertoire is a mountainous task, but to add to the pot a wordless approach with the support of piano accompaniment only is sheer bravery. Yet that is the path Finnish singer Kadi Vija cast for herself. Joined by Canadian pianist Lucas Dann, the two embark on the intricacies of Monk’s compositions, with a clean and unpretentious approach. Vija’s voice is crystalline and without affect. She brings a unique sensibility and rhythmic distinctiveness that gives her a signature sound.
The title track in is an emotional vulnerable tune, as Vija approaches the tune like an unadorned trumpeter, languorous notes with modest flair. Dann’s interactive accompaniment is a perfect foil, yet he also
provides communicative support that does not harmonically strike against Vija’s melody lines. “Monk’s Mood,” is a caressed with melodic curvatures and the two are careful not to overtake the melody with obtuse gestures. A true respect is given to the tune, making it a winning number
On the more up-tempo tracks, Vija’s shines with interpretations of “Bemsha Swing” which is creative and artistically phrased. Dann takes a more percussive accompaniment which is effective with Vija’s lilting ideas.
“Booboo’s Birthday,” offers the listener a bouncy jaunt with Dann and Vija cohesively interacting, creating a push, and pull in the rhythm. Vija’s vocals are not the standard fare, so one has to listen beyond the cuties standards singer approach and take her adventurous approach in more of an artsy or ala Dillion-esque vibe. It seems her approach is that of discovery and reinvention, versus an always over polished approach.
I give this duo kudos for tackling some of the best-known jazz music that needs confidence to approach. There is no doubt both musicians met this project head on. Without a doubt this was not a remake approach, they uniquely made this their own unique recording, and one to look back upon with pride. Flawless, no; but should jazz be flawless – adventurous – yes. A great moment in time, captured in a recorded format – to be enjoyed in the moment. Well done!