Columbia Legacy Jazz recordings, the reissue department of Columbia Jazz, has seriously upped the ante on documenting Thelonious Monk's Columbia work with two more fine, fine Monk reissues. As those may be familiar, Columbia re- released both Monk: Live at the It Club, and Monk Alone (solo piano)- within the past three years. Now come these two live sets, "in Tokyo" and "At the Jazz Workshop"(further accompanied by a 3-cd set- "The Columbia Years"- compilation) in this, the latest wave of the Monk reissue campaign at Columbia. Both of these live sets are 2 cd sets and, about the actual reissue status: the Tokyo set has never before seen US stores, whereas this Jazz Workshop date, previously issued here, now contains 26 previously-unheard minutes of play.
In October, 1964, Monk and his quartet with Rouse (a band member from 1958 to 1970), then-new bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley, were recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco.
This set was previously released (in ‘68) but was given a rather liberal and production-heavy editing job. Three of the tracks here then are restored to both their complete length and a more organic sound. These tracks include "Ba-lu Bolivar Ba-lues Are" (now at 7:31) and "Well You Needn't (upped to 10:31) on the first disc, and "Blue Monk"(to 7:04) on the second disc.
Prime cuts from the Workshop date are abundant. On the first disc, they include the simmering 10 and ½ minute long performance of "Well You Needn't", a crisp and understated "Bright Mississippi" and- a solo piano outing by Monk on the Eubie Blake-Andy Razaf chestnut "Memories of You", a cut that is as sublime as it is somehow sober.
On the second disc of the set, there are fine versions of "Nutty", a longer "Bright Mississippi"and an incisive rendition of "Thelonious." Charlie Rouse delivers the sermon while the choir oohs and aahs, or rather- plunks and thunks.
There is a lot of overlap in tunes from the first to the second disc of the Workshop date so those who are on a budget and are hestitating between the Tokyo and Jazz Workshop dates in the recent reissue program may opt for the Tokyo date first as there is more variety overall and the playing is just as Monkin' good.
Finally, it is fortunate both for the music audience and for the posterity of Monk's career that his live performances are now being devoted equal attention by reissue programs as his studio output. It's important to strike some kind of balance between an artist in how he/she sounded in the studio vs. live. Many artists we only know by studio records(a modern predicament) and so fine live dates are always a bonus anymore, especially with a jazz giant like Thelonious Monk and his fine quartet.
Thelonious Monk- piano; Charlie Rouse- tenor saxophone; Larry Gales- bass; Ben Riley- drums.