There's a purity and innocence in the music of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk
. But a subtle complexity colored his tunes, masked by an enchanting approach-ability. You hear "Bemsha Swing," "Well You Needn't," "In Walked Bud," and the melodies won't leave your head; they soak into your neural circuitry, permanently.
Monk emerged in the late forties with a series of 78 rpm discs collected into two volumes of The Genius of Modern Jazz
(Blue Note Records, 1952). He recorded for Prestige Records until 1955, then moved to Riverside Records, where he blossomed. It was a stint that peaked with a masterpiece, Brilliant Corners
(1956). Then came his move to Columbia Records in 1962, where his artistry sharpened to a fine focus, featuring the pianist inwith notable exceptionsthe quarter format, a saxophone and the rhythm section, laying out his music in its purest formquirky, angular, dissonant at times, often playful, and different from anything anybody had created before. Monk made himself a giant by being himself. Nobody, in any artistic endeavor, has done it better.
Monk passed in 1982. His recording career was over by 1970. A battle with mental illness surely played a part in his fade out from performing and recording. But then, in 2005, came the Holy Grail. More Monk: Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
(Blue Note Records), a 1957-recorded, undiscovered live set unearthed by the jazz archeologists. That raised suspicions: Could there be more Monk sitting on the shelves. The answer: There was, in the form of Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
, music recorded for the 1960 Roger Vadim movie Les Liaisons Dangereuses
A studio set recorded in 1959, in New York City, when Monk was in his late tenure at Riverside Records, the sound here is something of a preview of his approach upon his move to Columbia Records, where the compositions took on a tighter (it's relative; this is, after all, Monk) form. The set features tenor saxophonists Charlie Rouse
and Barney Wilen
. Rouse went on to serve in Monk's bands until the end. Wilen was best known then as the sax man on Miles Davis soundtrack recording, Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud
(Fontana, 1958). The rhythm section was rounded out by bassist Sam Jones
and drummer Art Taylor
As on most of his Columbia work, the set list is contains tunes mostly from the familiar Monk songbook, with a brief gospel hymn "By And By (We'll Understand it By And By)." The somber "Pannonica" receives three treatments; "Well You Needn't" is more fluid and more introspective than any other Monk take of the tune; "Crepuscule With Nellie" is, as always, perfect universe that makes complete and beautiful sense.
Bassist Jones and drummer Art Taylorwho backed Monk on the Riverside Records set 5 By Monk By 5
(1959), recorded two months before Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
are particularly attuned to Monk's quirky mindset, applying a glue-like steadiness to the pianist's off-kilter approach, with the exception of some clunky, ham-fisted drumming on "Light Blue," which is much more pronounced (lamentably) on the version on disc #1 of this two disc set. Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereueses 1960
is Monk in fine form, leaning toward his Columbia Records sound with excellent compatriots.