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Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Mark Corroto By

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It's nearly impossible to underestimate the importance of the discovery of the tapes Thelonious Monk made for the French film Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960. Recorded in New York in July 1959, the session, although used in the film, was filed away for some 55 years. Recovered and remastered, we hear not only the soundtrack, but alternate takes and Monk rehearsing his band.

Monk had never scored a soundtrack, but was convinced by the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter to follow through with this project. The background to this work is almost as relevant as the music itself. The 56-page booklet that accompanied both the Record Store Day LP release and the double CDs gives us the historical context of the session with essays by jazz writers Brian Priestly, Alain Tercinet, and Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley. Plus, there are some gorgeous photographs of the recording session. 

In 1959, Monk was simultaneously at his musical height and physical and mental low. He had lost his cabaret card for the second time, been beaten by the police, and was institutionalized. While his recordings and unique piano style were finally being recognized by critics and the jazz cognoscente, his mental stability began to wobble. Like his friend Bud Powell, there was still genius lurking, but life had erected many obstacles for the great man. 

Heard here are classic Monk pieces "Rhythm-a-Ning," "Well, You Needn't," and "Crepuscule With Nellie." Unique here is the fact that Monk's soon-to-be favorite sideman Charlie Rouse is joined by saxophonist Barney Wilen, the young French phenom you might recall from Miles Davis' soundtrack from the film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud in 1957. Also heard are bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor, the latter is schooled by Monk on his rarely recorded "Light Blue." The 14 minutes of "Light Blue (making of)" recalls Monk rehearsing for his Town Hall concert in photographer W. Eugene Smith's loft space. Elsewhere there are the (by now) familiar "Pannonica" and "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are." Sure, but hearing Monk perform "Crepuscule With Nellie" and "Pannonica" back-to-back solo and in quartet, displays the humanity of the high priest. He performs a short blues improvisation, "Six In One," which is a sort of glimpse into the mind of the pianist. Then there's the gospel cover of "By And By (We'll Understand it Better By And By)," a song he certainly played growing up in church. He maintains the reverence due, but the music is unmistakably Monk. 

Track Listing: CD1: Rhythm-a-Ning; Crepuscule with Nellie; Six in One; Well, You Needn’t; Pannonica (solo); Pannonica (solo); Pannonica (quartet); BaLue Boliver Ba-lues-Are; Light Blue; By and By. CD2: Rhythm-a-Ning(alternate); Crepuscule with Nellie (take 1); Pannonica (45 master); Light Blue (45 Master); Well, You Needn’t (unedited); Light Blue (making of).

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone; Barney Wilen: tenor saxophone; Sam Jones: bass; Art Taylor: drums.

Title: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sam Records

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