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Mingus, Coltrane, Blakey & Monk: Four Rhino Reissues

Robert Spencer By

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This second set of Atlantic classic jazz reissues from Rhino is just as attractively and imaginatively packaged as the first, and the music is just as seminal. I wonder why no one had this idea earlier: instead of trying to approximate LP packaging in and around a jewel box, Rhino here simply shrinks the actual original LP sleeve of these jazz classics down to CD size. Additional tracks are added. This mini-LP is then enclosed within a folder that reproduces the original liner notes in a more eye-friendly type size than on the mini-jacket, and adds new notes and photos. A wonderfully inviting package.

And the music! Last year they gave us loving remasterings of classics like Coltrane's Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz ; this year's crop is no less abundant: Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk, Coltrane's Sound, and Mingus' The Clown and Oh Yeah.

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk1957

If this isn't the best recording Thelonious Monk ever made, it's close. And that only means that it's one of the greatest examples of jazz music, period. Blakey's dynamic drumming seems to give Thelonious a shot of energy - and not just the pianist. Tenor man Johnny Griffin and trumpeter Bill Hardman recorded with Monk elsewhere, but never with this much fire. In a characteristic moment, Griffin charges through "In Walked Bud" with glorious fury, only to give way to one of Monk's most dramatic solos ever, bursting with daring rhythmic invention and harmonic abstraction. Monk's solo on "Blue Monk" is another dashing, lurching masterpiece. "I Mean You" is invested with superabundant exuberance. Griffin's "Purple Shades" is a lesser-known but utterly right finale, topped off here by three recently discovered alternatie takes of "Evidence," "Blue Monk," and "I Mean You."

My friend, if you don't like this one, you don't like jazz.

Coltrane's Sound1960

One of Trane's most often overlooked, and loveliest, albums. Coltrane's Sound owes its undeserved obscurity in part to the fact that although the tracks on it were recorded during the same marathon November 1960 sessions that produced My Favorite Things, Coltrane's Sound wasn't released until 1964. By that time Coltrane was investigating fiery realms of the spirit, and even to his loyal fans this album must have seemed inconsequential by comparison. Yet as an album it is more cohesive and better paced than My Favorite Things, and contains several gems of the master's "middle period": a passionate but lyrical take on "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," and three lovely, beguiling little masterworks: "Central Park West," "Liberia," and "Equinox." In this edition it's fitted out with another genial track from the same sessions, "26-2," and an alternate take of "Body and Soul," which Coltrane revitalizes in characteristic fashion. This one is as essenti! al as the Monk disc.

The Clown 1957

"The Clown." Is it about Mingus? Someone he knew? Is it just a story? Whatever, it's the centerpiece of a great disc, made even greater here by the addition of two tracks that were recorded at the same time as the original album but wouldn't fit on the LP: the gorgeous "Passions of a Woman Loved" and "Tonight at Noon." These join the magnificently powerful take here of "Haitian Fight Song" and the titanic "Reincarnation of a Lovebird." The instrumentalists are headed by the nonpareil trombonist Jimmy Knepper, who makes one long for an instrumental version of the title track. But this one will do just fine, thank you.

Oh Yeah1961

Mingus plays only piano - no bass at all - on this disc, but its most noteworthy feature is his singing. Much of it resembles the off-mike exhortations to the other musicians that can be found on many of his other recordings - this time they're on mike. But he also honest-to-goodness sings, in a grainy bluesman's voice, the blues "Devil Woman" and "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me." "Ecclusiastics" is a glorious Pentecostal prayer meeting. The playing is magnificent throughout: "Hog Callin'Blues" is distinguished by Mr. Rahsaan Roland Kirk's multiphonic tenor sax as the hog, and he, Knepper, and the whole ensemble whip "Ecclusiastics" to a holy frenzy. The three additional tracks now reunited with their session mates - "'Old' Blues for Walt's Torin," "Peggy's Blue Skylight," and "Invisible Lady" - are somewhat more restrained, but no less brimming with passionate, top-flight musicianship. A classic worthy of the name.

| Record Label: Rhino Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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