Pianist, composer and ranking bop pioneer Thelonious Monk made a heap of recordings during his lifetime (1917-82) and, generally speaking, the further back in time you go the more magical they are. Thelonious Monk Trio
(Prestige, 1954), here in a Rudy Van Gelder remaster edition, is early Monk and amongst the most eternal of his albums.
The disc catches Monk playing with the same revolutionary zeal as characterized his earlier masterpieces Genius Of Modern Music Volume 1 (Blue Note, 1947-48) and Volume 2 (Blue Note, 1947-52), and before the later, more prepared, structural and conceptual achievements of Brilliant Corners (Riverside, 1956) and Monk's Music (Riverside, 1957), with their bigger line-ups.
Prestige boss Bob Weinstock famously ran a no-frills, no-rehearsals, cash-money operation, and Thelonious Monk Trio catches Monk at the top of his on-the-hoof game during three sessions spanning his 1952-54 period with the label. Monk's compositions are still fresh (he wrote most of his signature works during the Blue Note/Prestige years) and his playing of them vigorous and exploratory (qualities which diminished alarmingly during his 1960s period with Columbia). His deconstructions of standard songs, three of which ("Just A Gigolo," "Sweet And Lovely" and, la creme de la creme, "These Foolish Things") are included here, are simultaneously subversive, celebratory, parodic and affectionate.
And everything, standard or original, swings like crazy. At this period like no other, Monk's rhythmic attack packed the power of an express train. He really didn't need a drummer. His keyboard rhythmsstated or impliedcarried all before them. The majority of the tracks here feature Art Blakey on drums, but the most drumtastic are the four featuring Max Roach ("Trinkle, Tinkle," "These Foolish Things," "Bemsha Swing" and "Reflections"). Blakey lays down a solid righteous beat, of course, but the more interactive and light-footed Roach pretty much lets Monk carry the swing, himself preferring to play around and mess with it. Some people prefer the Monk/Blakey combination, but to my ears the Monk/Roach wildcard wins every time.
It's all a winning hand though, and available here in a fine remaster featuring crisp cymbal and snare drum textures and richer bass frequencies, be they on the piano, the bass or the bass drum. As another bonus, Ira Gitler puts up some new anecdotes in his liner notes. When Gitler, who supervised the 1952 session which produced "Trinkle, Tinkle," asked for its title, Monk replied "through clenched teeth," and Gitler didn't hear his intended title ("Twinkle Twinkle," as he later learned) properly. But what's in a name? This is immortal, stratospheric music.
Blue Monk; Just A Gigolo; Bemsha Swing; Reflections; Little Rootie Tootie; Sweet And Lovely; Bye-Ya; Monk's Dream; Trinkle, Tinkle; These Foolish Things.
Thelonious Monk: piano; Gary Mapp: bass (3-10); Percy Heath: bass (1, 2); Art Blakey: drums (3-10); Max Roach: drums (1, 2).