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Thelonious Monk: Mønk

Karl Ackermann By

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Closely following the release of John Coltrane's Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!, 2018), this year brings us another previously unreleased gem from the golden age of jazz. The status of Thelonius Monk in the early 1960s, is indisputable and this recently discovered session recorded at a live performance in Copenhagen's Old Fellow Palæet, in 1963 validates the pianist's standing. The engineers at the UK's Gearbox Records undertook a painstaking process to restore and master the original tapes, found in a London dumpster. The result is Monk, a pristine collection of Monk classics as performed by his most highly regarded quartet.

Saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and drummer Frankie Dunlop filled the Monk quartets that recorded Criss-Cross and Monk's Dream—both released on Columbia in 1963—and arguably, two of Monk's best recordings. The group functioned at a time when Monk was moving away from a highly inventive phase to less challenging material but it was with these personnel dynamics that the music came to life.

Three of the five compositions are Monk originals that appeared on his earliest studio albums. Thelonious Monk Trio (Prestige, 1954) included "Bye-Ya" and "Monk's Dream" and is generally considered his first album as a leader. (Blue Note's 1951 Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1 was credited as a Monk release but was actually a compilation). Another 1954 Prestige release, Thelonious Monk Plays contained the original version of "Nutty." The Monk originals accompany the covers of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Body and Soul" (which he covered on Thelonious Himself (Riverside, 1957) and Two Hours with Thelonious (Riverside, 1963) respectively. The live forms of the Monk pieces are—as one may expect in a live format—considerably longer than the studio versions allowing the listener a full appreciation of the players. The underrated Rouse plays in both muscular and lyrical styles on "Nutty" and—often in direct contrast—Monk has never sounded more eloquent. At more than nine minutes, Ore and Dunlop have a bit of time in the spotlight as well. "Bye-Ya"—also approaching double-digit length—is an improvisational gem for both Monk and Rouse who gives the tenor a near-human voice on "Monk's Dream."

Gearbox Records has done a masterful job in restoring the original tapes and capturing the qualities of the live performance on Monk. The quartet reworks the standards through imaginative readings; their playing is loose but adheres to the original melodies and Monk's favored blues shadings. A year after this performance, Monk would not only be one of only four jazz artists to appear on the cover of Time (Feb. 28, 1964) but the magazine would dedicate more than five-thousand words to the works, workings, and failings, of one of the most enigmatic artists in jazz history. Monk is offered as a digital release and as a limited edition vinyl LP.

Track Listing: Side A: Bye-Ya; Nutty. Side B: I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; Body and Soul; Monk's Dream.

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: tenor saxophone (A1-B1, B3); John Ore: double bass (A1-B1, B3); Frankie Dunlop: drums (A1-B1, B3).

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

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