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Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto

Mike Jurkovic By

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Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto
Earth-shattering? The best live Thelonious Monk recording ever? Who knows? Probably not. But it is Monk, so Palo Alto, comes to us with all the scholarly fandom brouhaha we accord these wonderful little things that gratefully drop in our laps from troubled time to troubled time.

For anyone not paying attention to the jazz chatter of late, the backstory to Palo Alto thumbnails broadly like this: It is 1968 which, as it just so happens, is another troubled time in America and a whole other discussion outside of this sphere. Jazz-stirred high school senior and budding teenage concert-promoter Danny Scher, through a series of chit-chats with this name and that name, secures the ear of Monk's manager Jules Colomby who agrees to half-a-grand. So, on an October Sunday afternoon, between gigs at the Jazz Workshop in San Fransisco, Monk and his antic merry-men—tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley—set-up on the small stage of Palo Alto High School's 350-seat high school auditorium and well, rock the freakin' house.

To reiterate, it is '68, which isn't pretty for anyone, let alone Monk who can be and has been accused, for any number of mental, health, and personal reasons, of just letting it ride through the late 60's, the ebbing genius playing standard sets of greatest hits. But there is a twist as there always is with these things which is why we continue to return to these vibrant back moments of small histories made amid the chaos of the bigger picture. The essence is that the white folk weren't buying the two-dollar tickets. Scher opened up sales to the surrounding, poorer black folk and, well, here we are celebrating forty-seven blissful, harmonic minutes of unity.

Ahh, if we only had someone who could unify us like that now.

For Monk's posthumous label debut, Impulse Records in a five year partnership with Rhythm-A-Ning Entertainment, Monk's estate led by his son drummer T.S. Monk, Palo Alto, recorded by Scher and forgotten for many years, is a cool head bopper from Monk and Rouse's delightfully swaying, playful big easy on "Ruby, My Dear" through a particularly buoyant and vivaciously looping, thirteen-minute joyride of solos that make "Well You Needn't" canter, caper, and pop. (Gale's solo alone is worth a wealth more than that two dollar ticket.) "Blue Monk" gets an equally sweet fourteen-minute dance of relaxed equals, the foursome feeding off each (Gale again, with Riley snapping off the snare like rushes of cool lightening.) Rouse, of course, blows and whispers as Monk pinballs away, leading the charge into a sprightly animated "Epistrophy." Monk's piano bench (or is it the stage?) creaks crazily throughout, lending a real air of immediacy to the many spirited moments. A moment Monk takes out striding friskily through Rudy Vallée's "I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams." A moment once shared by a few and now by the many.

Track Listing

Ruby, My Dear; Well, You Needn’t; Don’t Blame Me: Blue Monk: Epistrophy: I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams.

Personnel

Thelonious Monk: piano; Charlie Rouse: saxophone, tenor; Larry Gales: bass; Ben Riley: drums.

Album information

Title: Palo Alto | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Impulse! Records

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