Underground was Monk’s final quartet recording, but instead of sounding like a last gasp, the modern jazz pioneer proved he had one truly great record left in him. The set kicks off with a rousing version of “Thelonious,” an old tune that has lost none of its freshness over the decades. However, the real treat is that for once on a Columbia release, four brand new songs are featured, all of which are worthy entries into Monk’s vast catalog of off-kilter melodies. The light-hearted “Boo Boo’s Birthday” and “Green Chimneys” both feature tricky chord progressions and quirky beginnings – the latter has a 21-bar head – whereas “Raise Four” makes judicious use of the flatted fifth. The aptly-titled “Ugly Beauty” is a haunting ballad in waltz time featuring excellent soloing from Rouse. The only other older tune played is “In Walked Bud,” where Jon Hendricks steps in to add vocals.
The best improvement to the reissue is not the improved sound, however, but that each track has been restored to its original running time. The truncated versions did an injustice to the quartet, whose interplay and expertise with Monk’s style is more perfectly captured here. Perhaps the title was a joke, for Monk had not been “underground” for years. As a final recording, this CD easily ranks with Monk’s best.