669

Columbia Monk

David Rickert By

Sign in to view read count
Monk’s Columbia recordings have never been as highly regarded as the Riverside sessions, some critics claiming that Monk was merely rehashing material he had previously recorded in inferior versions. However, Monk was always going to offer something new with each session, and in newly remastered versions with extended running time, Monk’s last sessions deserve another look.

Criss Cross
2003

Monk’s first record for Columbia could be accused of being a safe bet since it features a selection of classic Monk tunes instead of new material. However, don’t dismiss it too quickly. On the original recordings of these songs, the pianist played as if he was chiseling the tunes out of marble, and part of the fun was listening to what seemed very much like composition in progress. These recordings, on the other hand, sound more like finished sculptures or polished works of art.

Perhaps Monk sensed that this would be the last time he would record these tunes in the studio, or maybe Macero gave him more takes to hone a flawless performance. Nevertheless, Criss Cross was (and is) a great way for listeners unfamiliar with Monk to experience him for the first time in slightly low-key performances of classic Monk tunes. None of the songs exceeds four minutes and offer an excellent cross section of Monk’s artistry, from the lively “Hackensack” to the artfully constructed “Criss Cross” with a couple of standards thrown in, of course. “Crepuscle With Nellie” is arguably the best rendition of the tune, with Charlie Rouse displaying an empathy and understanding that not even Sonny Rollins could find. Monk may have had more interesting sidemen in his past, but Rouse gave the group a reliability it previously never had. However, “Pannonica” (not on the original LP release but added as a bonus track to the previous CD reissue) meanders too long and “Coming on the Hudson” (a brand new bonus track for this release) is a complicated tune on which not even Rouse can find footing. At any rate, an excellent fresh start.

It’s Monk’s Time
2003

It’s Monk’s Time is in many ways the least compromising of Monk’s Columbia records and the polar opposite of a record like Criss Cross (1962) due to the variety – lengthy renditions of tunes, a couple of solo performances, and a few obscure originals dusted off for the occasion. The session kicks off with what appears to be a solo recording of “Lulu’s Back in Town,” only to evolve from clunky stride into a full-blown quartet version after three minutes, approximating the way Monk approached live performances. Immediately following is one of two pleasant solo readings, both of which feature the relaxed stride and off-center rhythmic accents that Monk used so effectively when freed from the rhythm section.

For once the standards are more interesting than the originals; no classic Monk tunes are featured here, only some of Monk’s weaker compositions. The abrasive “Shuffle Boil” never quite gets off the ground, and “Stuffy Turkey” and “Brake’s Sake” are uninteresting and repetitive, respectively. However, the quartet finds inventive ways to pick through the changes and the sidemen all get ample solo time, Monk thumping out chords in the background, sounding every bit like he’s playing wearing oven mitts.

Surprisingly, the best of the original tunes wasn’t even on the original LP; an inspired reworking of “Epistrophy” casts off the cacophonous horns of the version on Monk’s Music for a smoother approach.

Not a great Monk record, but perhaps it has more to offer for the listener who finds some of the other Columbia releases to be rehashes of former work.

Underground
1967

Underground was Monk’s final quartet recording, but instead of sounding like a last gasp, the modern jazz pioneer proved he had one truly great record left in him. The set kicks off with a rousing version of “Thelonious,” an old tune that has lost none of its freshness over the decades. However, the real treat is that for once on a Columbia release, four brand new songs are featured, all of which are worthy entries into Monk’s vast catalog of off-kilter melodies. The light-hearted “Boo Boo’s Birthday” and “Green Chimneys” both feature tricky chord progressions and quirky beginnings – the latter has a 21-bar head – whereas “Raise Four” makes judicious use of the flatted fifth. The aptly-titled “Ugly Beauty” is a haunting ballad in waltz time featuring excellent soloing from Rouse. The only other older tune played is “In Walked Bud,” where Jon Hendricks steps in to add vocals.

The best improvement to the reissue is not the improved sound, however, but that each track has been restored to its original running time. The truncated versions did an injustice to the quartet, whose interplay and expertise with Monk’s style is more perfectly captured here. Perhaps the title was a joke, for Monk had not been “underground” for years. As a final recording, this CD easily ranks with Monk’s best.

Criss Cross
Tracks: 1. Hackensack 2. Tea For Two 3. Criss Cross 4. Eronel 5. Rhythm-A-Ning 6. Don’t Blame Me 7. Think Of One 8. Crepuscle With Nellie 9. Pannonica 10. Coming on the Hudson 11. Tea For Two (alt. Take) 12. Eronel (alt. take).
Personnel: Thelonius Monk – piano; Charlie Rouse – tenor sax; John Ore – bass; Frankie Dunlop – drums.

It’s Monk’s Time
Tracks: 1. Lulu’s Back in Town 2. Memories of You 3. Stuffy Turkey 4. Brake’s Sake 5. Nice Work If You Can Get It 6. Shuffle Boil 7. Epistrophy 8. Nice Work If You Can Get It (alt. take) 9. Shuffle Boil (alt. take).
Personnel: Thelonious Monk-piano; Charlie Rouse-tenor saxophone; Butch Warren-bass; Ben Riley-drums.

Underground
Tracks: 1. Thelonious 2. Ugly Beauty 3. Raise Four 4. Boo Boo’s Birthday 5. Easy Street 6. Green Chimneys 7. In Walked Bud 8. Ugly Beauty (alt. take) 9. Boo Boo’s Birthday (alt take) 10. Thelonious (alt. take).
Personnel: Thelonious Monk-piano; Charlie Rouse-tenor saxophone; Larry Gales-bass; Ben Riley-drums; Jon Hendricks-vocals (#7).


Columbia on the web: http://www.legacyrecordings.com


Shop

More Articles

Read Another Timbre’s Canadian Composers Series Multiple Reviews Another Timbre’s Canadian Composers Series
by John Eyles
Published: April 22, 2017
Read 440 Keys: A Batch of Piano Delights Multiple Reviews 440 Keys: A Batch of Piano Delights
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa Dos Ventos Multiple Reviews Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 17, 2017
Read Duke Ellington on Storyville Records Multiple Reviews Duke Ellington on Storyville Records
by Chris Mosey
Published: March 20, 2017
Read Lee Morgan On Music Matters Multiple Reviews Lee Morgan On Music Matters
by Greg Simmons
Published: March 6, 2017
Read Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Three New Releases from Peter Kuhn" Multiple Reviews Three New Releases from Peter Kuhn
by Dave Wayne
Published: August 4, 2016
Read "Leonard Cohen and His Legacy" Multiple Reviews Leonard Cohen and His Legacy
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 19, 2016
Read "Ivo Perelman: The Art of the Improv Trio" Multiple Reviews Ivo Perelman: The Art of the Improv Trio
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 4, 2017
Read "Mysteries Of The Deep and Binary from Brian (Shankar) Adler" Multiple Reviews Mysteries Of The Deep and Binary from Brian (Shankar) Adler
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2016
Read "Paul Kelly: Seven Sonnets & A Song and Death's Dateless Night" Multiple Reviews Paul Kelly: Seven Sonnets & A Song and Death's...
by Doug Collette
Published: October 16, 2016
Read "Jeremy Monteiro & Eugene Pao: To Paris With Love,  A Tribute to the Genius of Michel Legrand / Jeremy Monteiro & Jazz Brazileiro: Brazilian Dreams" Multiple Reviews Jeremy Monteiro & Eugene Pao: To Paris With Love, A...
by Ian Patterson
Published: August 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!