Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thelonious Monk - Paris 1969 (Blue Note, 2013)

In 1969, Thelonious Monk was nearing the end of his playing career. He would make a couple of tours with The Giants of Jazz super-group, and then retire to spend the rest of days free from music and unwilling to talk about the old days. This album finds Monk at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with his longtime cohort Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, but with some relatively unknown musicians: Nate "Lloyd" Hygelund on bass and 17-year-old drummer Paris Wright. The do not take away from the proceedings, but he music does get a palpable boost when the great drummer Philly Joe Jones sits in on "Nutty" making for some great rhythmic exchanges between the drummer and the leader. Familiar Monk songs like "I Mean You" and "Straight No Chaser" are performed with a great deal of energy. Monk biographer Robin Kelly says in the liner notes that Monk and Rouse had begun to coast during this period, and perhaps it is true. Columbia had tried to market Monk some kind of counter-culter guru particularly with the Monk Underground album cover, but it didn't take and Monk's music began to recede under the onslaught of rock 'n' roll. This took a chunk out of him for sure, but he wasn't going down without a fight as evidenced on the two part "Bright Mississippi" and swinging "Epistroiphy." The DVD is interesting footage from French TV with a few fades because it was shown in two parts. There is an interview section which is a little uncomfortable, because Monk was unhappy in that situation. Any footage of Monk in concert is well worth it, and although his dancing on the stage days were over, you can tell how hard he is playing from the sweat running down his face. So while this isn't the penultimate live Monk recording (Live at the It Club is my favorite) it is well worthwhile and interesting document  of a jazz legend near the end of his career. Paris 1969 (CD/DVD) - amazon.com

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