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Thelonious Monk: Live At The Five Spot: Discovery!

Jim Santella By

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This live date, recorded in the summer of `57, features pianist and composer Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane on tenor sax, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. Since it was captured on a portable tape recorder by Juanita (Naima) Coltrane, the total immersion of being in a live session pervades, with audience conversations and other background noises popping up at unexpected intervals. Unfortunately, the single microphone was positioned too far away from John Coltrane, so that there's an imbalance in the volume level of the artists. Other than that, the sound quality is something that you get used to, and the material is plentiful at forty-three minutes, with lengthy solos from each member of the quartet.

Both Trane and Monk stretch out on "Trinkle Tinkle" with long solo outings that reinforce their known styles. Trane was into his "sheets of sound" phase then and his muscular, confident tone supports the lengthy phrases. Monk is showing distinctive dissonances and quoting from his other tunes as he bounces and romps through a loose solo encounter. Monk starts "In Walked Bud" with the familiar melody and hands off to Trane, who takes his time to think the earlier phrases through carefully. Staying with the chord changes, Trane advances slowly at first and continues to add more and more motion to his stream of notes, causing the overall effect to become quite interesting. Almost all of Trane's work on this set is in the middle or lower register; once considered avant-garde, it's quite accessible by today's standards. "I Mean You" is the highlight of the set, over thirteen minutes long and with carefully constructed solos by each artist. During his piano solo Monk finds a few of the keyboard notes that are out of tune and returns to one of them repeatedly as if to experiment with this unusual sound. Abdul-Malik tends to take solos in stride with just the walking pattern. Haynes, on the other hand, shows excellent technique and selection of all available textures during his share of the spotlight. On "Epistrophy" part of Monk's solo turns into an abrupt fade before the quartet is heard finishing because a part of the original tape was recorded over by accident. It's sheer coincidence that "Crepuscule With Nellie" contains more audience conversation than the other numbers, because the effect of this graceful ballad, with people noticeably enjoying each other's company, fulfills the title's meaning of a twilight dinner date for this proud composer and his lovely wife.

| Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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