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Thelonious Monk: Monk 'Round the World

John Kelman By

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What can you say about pianist Thelonious Monk? By the time these tracks were recorded, between '61 and '64, he had already amassed a body of work containing many tunes that had already become classics, and he would continue to influence composers and players through to this day. At this time in his career, though, rather than continuing to develop new material, he seemed content, for the most part, to reinterpret his own significant oeuvre. Backed by a fluctuating band that did, however, have one constant in tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, he may not have composed much new music, but his performances, especially in concert, were among the most spirited of his career. Thelonious Records continues its association with Hyena Records, this time releasing a two-disc combo, Monk 'Round the World , which combines a CD of choice live performances from Paris, Monterey, Stockholm and one unknown location, as well as a bonus DVD with twenty-five minutes from a live performance at the infamous Marquee Club in London.

As might be expected, the quality of the recordings varies. Still, producer Joel Dorn manages to squeeze a lot of sound out of them, creating an aural consistency that makes the one-hour CD a good documentation of what Monk's set list around that time might have been. The DVD quality is a little shakier, the sound being more muffled; still, it's a fascinating chance to see Monk at work, with arguably the finest ensemble he ever had. On both disks Monk's wry humour comes through in every note, with Rouse playing the straight man to Monk's more idiosyncratic playing.

By presenting a programme of six extended tunes that cover many, but not all, of Monk's most well-known pieces—"Epistrophy," "Blue Monk," "Ruby My Dear," "Rhythm a Ning," "Bemsha Swing" and "Hanckensack"—the CD is a perfect introduction for new listeners, and clearly of archival interest to Monk fans. Regardless of who is holding down the rhythm section, Monk and Rouse demonstrate that there's nothing wrong with looking for new ways to approach existing material. Keith Jarrett has said that it's not the choice of material, it's what you do with it—and at this stage in his life, while Monk may not have been composing much, his explorations into the nooks and crannies of his tunes were as vital as ever.

Monk 'Round the World puts together a number of outstanding performances and gives the listener a chance not only to hear Monk in action during some of his best years performing, but to see him as well. It shows that Monk truly was, as Dorn puts it, "the past, the present and the future all at once."

Visit Thelonious Monk on the web.


Track Listing: Epistrophy; Blue Monk; Ruby My Dear; Rhythm a Ning; Bemsha Swing; Hackensack; Epistrophy (closing theme)

Personnel: Thelonious Monk (piano), Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), John Ore (bass on "Epistrophy," "Rhythm A Ning," "Bemsha Swing"), Butch Warren (bass on "Blue Monk," "Ruby My Dear," "Epistrophy (closing theme)"), Larry Gales (bass on "Hackensack"), Frankie Dunlop (drums on "Epistrophy," "Rhythm A Ning," "Bemsha Swing"), Ben Riley (drums on "Blue Monk," "Ruby My Dear," "Epistrophy (closing theme)," "Hackensack")
DVD content: Thelonious Monk (piano), Charlie Rouse (tenor saxophone), Larry Gales (bass), Ben Riley (drums)

Title: Monk 'Round The World | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Thelonious Records

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