Kim Pensyl made a name for himself with his series of smooth jazz CDs, though he began breaking away from that mold around the turn of the 21st century. Primarily a keyboardist in the past, he has played the trumpet since his youth, but plays the horn exclusively on this session, featuring his arrangements of a dozen songs by Thelonious Monk. Pianist Phil DeGreg joins him on all tracks, with the duo expanding to a trio with the addition of vibraphonist Rusty Burge, saxophonist Rick VanMatre, or bassist Doug Richeson on nine of the selections. Pensyl has a lyrical, understated sound on trumpet, and his arrangements of Monk's music build logically on the essence of each of the timeless melodies. Pensyl's duets with DeGreg include a bittersweet "Reflections" that find him stretching out a bit more in his solo, while they also set up "Blue Monk" with a playful joint improvisation and a brilliant extended workout of "Ask Me Now." Burge is added for a spry settings of "Monk's Dream" and "Hackensack," plus an imaginative "Misterioso" featuring the leader on muted horn in which DeGreg plays softly behind his partners' solos. VanMatre's robust tenor is added for a lush take of "Ruby, My Dear" and a rhapsodic treatment of "Ugly Beauty." With Richeson added, Pensyl utilizes his mute once more for the breezy setting of "Nutty," while the bassist's presence is a bonus to the lively performance of "Straight, No Chaser." Recommended. ~ Ken Dryden, Rovi

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