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Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall

Chris May By

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The hype surrounding the discovery and release of this concert recording has been considerable, but now the actuality is upon us, every breathless adjective proves to be justified and then some: it's only September, and this beauty must already qualify as the Buried Treasure Discovery Of The Year, no contest.

Just in case you've been off-planet recently and missed it, here's the back story.... It's '57 and the legendary, and legendarily under-recorded, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, match fit after four months of solid work at the Five Spot, is taped at a benefit gig at Carnegie Hall by Voice Of America, with state-of-the-art recording equipment, for a future broadcast which never happens. The inadequately labeled tape reels are then lost in the vaults until they are discovered by eagle-eyed Library of Congress recording lab supervisor Larry Appelbaum earlier this year. Take a bow, Larry, you deserve it, along with our great gratitude—a less forensically alert person might have missed this muthalode, which could all too easily have been lost forever.

It is of course no surprise that this music is so out-of-sight wonderful, given the protagonists and the testimony of people who claim to have caught the band live at the Five Spot (which seems like half the population of Manhattan, allegedly; although over a five month residency I guess that is almost possible). But it is still revelatory to hear the musicians so well recorded, so comfortable with Monk's tricky compositions after four months of immersion in them, so at ease with each other, and with their genius leader playing a keyboard worthy of his talents for once (and clearly loving it).

On those few, previously available, studio recordings of the band, Coltrane frequently sounds tentative—not only was he only very recently out of cold turkey for heroin addiction, but he was still finding Monk's compositions a big challenge. Here by contrast, from the opening, leisurely moments of the 7:52 piano/saxophone conversation which is "Monk's Mood" through the rest of the album—two 25-minute sets—a stream of deeply engaged exploration and dialogue is maintained, with Monk and Coltrane each contributing spirited and outstanding solos over solid bass and drums grooves.

Not just for completists, this album ranks as pretty much essential listening for Monk and Coltrane fans both.


Track Listing: Monk's Mood; Evidence; Crepuscule With Nellie; Nutty; Epistrophy; Bye-Ya; Sweet & Lovely; Blue Monk; Epistrophy (incomplete).

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Ahmed Abdul-Malik: bass; Shadow Wilson: drums.

Title: At Carnegie Hall | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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