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Thelonious Monk: Mønk

Ian Patterson By

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There is certainly no shortage of Thelonious Monk live albums—there are several dozen, in fact—but not too many such recordings have been rescued from a skip, as seems to be the case with this long-lost tape of Monk from a 1963 concert at Odd Fellow Palaeet, Copenhagen. Lovingly restored by Gearbox Records, the recording finds Monk with long-term collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone and a cooking rhythm section of double bassist John Ore and drummer Frankie Dunlop. It is, almost inevitably, a familiar set of Monk tunes and standards, but if only for the energy and swing, as well as the passion exhibited in both Monk and Rouse's soloing, this set marks a welcome addition to Monk's discography.

Dunlop's snappy intro kick-starts the cheery "Bye-ya!," with Monk and Rouse introducing the melody in tandem before the saxophonist stretches out. The Washingtonian's extended improvisation is buoyed by Ore's walking bass, Dunlop's light but propulsive snare work and Monk's highly rhythmic accents. When it's Monk's turn, the pianist restates the theme before weaving a mesmerizing trail of jaunty motifs, roller-coaster glissandi, and spaces that are framed by block chords and bell-like, single note punctuations. In Monk's exploratory language reside seeds that have flourished in pianists from Ahmad Jamal to Jason Moran, not to mention a thousand others in between.

The format is, even for the time, conventional. Apart from a fascinating solo piano rendition of "Body and Soul," the pattern is pretty much repeated on "Nutty" and "Monk's Dream," with heads providing the launching pads for Monk and Rouse improvisations. The tenor player's slightly raspy, fulsome sound traces linear melodic paths, in contrast to Monk's less predictable dance steps. Yet despite their chalk-and-cheese musical personalities the feel here is of connected musical souls giving full rein to their individualism. Rouse played with Monk for a decade and Monk's unique comping was arguably most compelling when stoking the saxophonist's fires. The pianist's single notes, falling like random raindrops during Rouse' solo on "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" cast a particularly curious spell.

Binding it all together are the excellent Ore and Dunlop. In the liner notes, Ethan Iverson lavishes praise on the duo, hailing them as "one of the great rhythm sections" and they swing the four quartet numbers mightily. Neither gets to solo here, which is a pity, as you suspect they have plenty more to say. Both Monk and Rouse have asteroids named after them and it would be fitting if the bassist and drummer, two unsung heroes of the latter half of twentieth century jazz, were to receive a similar accolade.

It's the unaccompanied piano reading of "Body and Soul," however, that seems to stop time. Monk's caressing of the melody exudes a gentle melancholy, as though playing for nobody but himself, while his mazy, softly spun logic draws you ever deeper inside the tune and into Monk's compelling universe—so playful, so tender. So Monk.

Track Listing: Bye-ya!; Nutty; I’m Getting Sentimental Over You; Body and Soul; Monk’s Dream.

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone; Frankie Dunlop: drums; John Ore: double bass.

Title: Mønk | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Gearbox Records

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