Gerry Mulligan & Thelonious Monk: Mulligan Meets Monk

C. Michael Bailey By

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Gerry Mulligan & Thelonious Monk

Mulligan Meets Monk


2013 (1957)

The beauty of the Concord Music Group's treasure trove of a catalog is that it will always provide material for the "Reassessing" column at All About Jazz and similar columns elsewhere. The newest round of re-releases celebrate the 60th anniversary of Riverside Records. Riverside Records was founded by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer in 1953, remaining a major force in jazz recording in New York City for a decade, when Grauer perished from a heart attack and the label declared bankruptcy. The catalog was acquired by Fantasy Records in 1972 and the catalog released under the Original Jazz Classics imprint. Concord Records purchased Fantasy Records in 2004, creating the largest jazz catalog available.

One of the first releases celebrating this anniversary are the August 12-13, 1957 recordings that were to become Mulligan Meets Monk. Is this the best Mulligan or Monk? Probably not, but, then again, compared to what? Thelonious Monk is easily the greatest composer of jazz standards (those songs composed specifically for jazz and not derived from the Great American Songbook). Gerry Mulligan, a mere three years previously, turned jazz on its ear by removing the piano as a harmonic instrument, essentially suspending the solo instruments on a highwire with the barest of rhythmic support. The meeting celebrates the spontaneity of jazz, its improvisational core.

The recital is of Monk's book. It could have been no other way. A lengthy "'Round Midnight" kicks things off. It is hard to hear and not think of the perfection Miles Davis achieved with his first great quintet in the year before while recording what would become 'Round About Midnight (Columbia, 1957). That said, the real article of Monk adds the dimension of event. This is Monk in all of his strange glory, playing his wonky brand of stride piano and demonstrating how he changed the white hot style of bebop harmonically.

Two takes of "Straight, No Chaser" and three of "I Mean You" allow Mulligan plenty of time a room to fully warm up and blow. Melodically sophisticated, Mulligan's arranging capabilities inform his ensemble and solo play by giving them a deliberate trajectory within the framework of improvisation. This is not a perfectly performed recording. Mulligan fluffs his share of notes and Monk, well, Monk is Monk, still able to startle 50 years later.

Tracks: 'Round Midnight; Rhythm-a-ing; Sweet And Lovely; Decidedly (Take 4); Straight, No Chaser (Take 3); I Mean You, (Take 4); Decidedly (Take 5); Straight, No Chaser (Take 1); I Mean You (Take 1); I Mean You (Take 2) .

Personnel: Gerry Mulligan: baritone saxophone; Thelonious Monk: piano; Wilbur Ware: bass; Shadow Wilson: drums.

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