Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners & At Town Hall


Sign in to view read count

Thelonious Monk

Brilliant Corners (Keepnews Collection)


Thelonious Monk

At Town Hall (Keepnews Collection)



It's time for some revisionist thinking on Monk's discography. Pride of place always seems to go to the earliest recordings when, undeniably, Monk debuted much of what was to be his small but indelible oeuvre. But were they really Monk's best records? Some tunes sounded rushed as the takes were short (still aimed at a singles market) and often weren't fully realized. A much better case can be made for Monk's Riverside albums as the pinnacle of his recorded legacy. And these two albums are cornerstones of that work.

Brilliant Corners was the first truly Monk-ian Monk LP from Riverside, as the label had debuted Monk in two piano trio albums, one of Duke Ellington tunes, the other of standards. Here Monk was given the opportunity to do his own compositions and he maximized the occasion by coming up with three new ones, as well as a novel take on an older one—all taking advantage of the expanded time available on LPs. (A piano solo rendition of "I Surrender Dear," one of Monk's first completely solo recordings, rounds out the album). The title track is one of those challenging (structurally and harmonically) Monk tunes further exacerbated by alternating slow-fast tempos with each chorus. Making it more singular still is the deep eructation of the saxophones (Sonny Rollins on tenor and Ernie Henry on alto) on the opening theme. And Henry's solo is so raw and wrenching a wail at times that it foreshadows Albert Ayler. With Max Roach (drums) and Oscar Pettiford (bass), this is one of Monk's best units and they deliver debuts of two dedications to the jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are" (she lived at the Bolivar) is a typically quirky blues with long solos—all shepherded by Monk's strong comping. "Pannonica," a serpentine ballad, is made doubly unique for Monk's use of a celeste (found in the studio) in the theme. The other studio find, tympani, gives extra clout to "Bemsha Swing," which also has Clark Terry's trumpet replacing Henry and Paul Chambers in for Pettiford.

Orchestral jazz was not unusual in the late '50s, but much of it was found only on albums recorded in studios. So Monk's At Town Hall concert on Feb. 28th, 1959, was a rare and singular event that had those who had been seeing his quartet in clubs salivating. We (I was lucky to have been there) weren't disappointed. And Riverside was there, issuing an LP recording of the six orchestral pieces on the program. This Keepnews Collection CD includes those six tracks plus the rest of the concert: three quartet tracks and an encore repeat of "Little Rootie Tootie." The orchestra was actually a tentet close to the format of Miles' Birth of the Cool sessions, with a tuba, French horn, trombone, trumpet, baritone, tenor and alto saxophones, bass, drums and Monk's piano. Hall Overton's arrangements/ orchestrations—done in close collaboration with Monk—are a visceral extension of his conception, expanding on his small group voicings with startling sonorities. "Little Rootie Tootie" also includes orchestrated bits of Monk's recorded solos. Other Monk tunes are revisited and expanded with cogent solos from altoist Phil Woods and trumpeter Donald Byrd as well as emphatic, glistening solos from Monk, who was obviously delighted with the orchestra (he even talked to the audience, a decidedly rare occurrence). In fact it is Monk's playing on these Riversides, as much as anything else, that makes them stand at the pinnacle of his recorded achievements.

Tracks and Personnel

Brilliant Corners (Keepnews Collection)

Tracks: Brilliant Corners; Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are; Pannonica; I Surrender, Dear; Bemsha Swing; Pannonica (incomplete—opening chorus only).

Personnel: Thelonious Monk: piano; Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry: saxophones; Oscar Pettiford or Paul Chambers: bass; Max Roach: drums; Clark Terry: trumpet.

At Town Hall (Keepnews Collection)

Tracks: Thelonious (complete version); Friday The 13th; Monk's Mood; Little Rootie Tootie; Off Minor; Crepuscule With Nellie; Little Rootie Tootie (encore); In Walked Bud; Blue Monk; Rhythm-A-Ning.

Personnel: Donald Byrd: trumpet; Eddie Bert: trombone; Bob Northern: French horn; Jay McAllister: tuba; Phil Woods, Charlie Rouse, Pepper Adams: saxophones; Thelonious Monk: piano; Sam Jones: bass; Art Taylor: drums.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Guitars on Three Continents Multiple Reviews Guitars on Three Continents
by Geno Thackara
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana Multiple Reviews Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana
by James Nadal
Published: July 12, 2017
Read Blues Deluxe 2 Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe 2
by Doug Collette
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Two Sackville Gems: Abdullah Ibraihim's "Ancient Africa" and Oliver Lake and Joseph Bowie's "Live at A Space 1976" Multiple Reviews Two Sackville Gems: Abdullah Ibraihim's "Ancient...
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: June 2, 2017
Read "Margrete Grarup: Denmark's jazz secret is out" Multiple Reviews Margrete Grarup: Denmark's jazz secret is out
by Chris Mosey
Published: May 28, 2017
Read "Weekertoft Hits Its Stride…" Multiple Reviews Weekertoft Hits Its Stride…
by John Eyles
Published: January 7, 2017
Read "Calling Ra, Mr. Sun Ra your rocket ship is ready" Multiple Reviews Calling Ra, Mr. Sun Ra your rocket ship is ready
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 9, 2016
Read "2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon" Multiple Reviews 2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas" Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas
by Doug Collette
Published: January 14, 2017

Support All About Jazz: MAKE A PURCHASE  

Support our sponsor

Upgrade Today!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.