Friday, September 25, 2009

Thelonious Monk - Monk (Prestige 1956, 2009)

Coming in between his two more well known tenures for the record labels Blue Note and Riverside, the great pianist and composer Thelonious Monk recorded a few albums for the Prestige label, since collected in a three disc boxed set, or now re-releases of the original LP's remastered by engineer Rudy Van Gelder. This album consists of two recording sessions, with the first four tracks featuring Monk on piano, Frank Foster on tenor saxophone, Ray Copeland on trumpet, Curly Russell on bass and Art Blakey on drums. From this session, "We See" opens with a nice swinging uptempo Monk led trio followed by a hearty tenor saxophone solo. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" follows with a mellowed pace and some nicely pointillistic piano. Horns frame and accent Monk's solo. "Locomotive" has percussive piano and drums making way for a spritely trumpet feature and swinging mid-tempo tenor sax. "Hackensack" ends this session with a celebratory and fast paced performance. The final three tracks on this album come from a session with Monk on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Julius Watkins on French horn, Percy Heath on bass and Willie Jones on drums. "Let's Call This" opens with a medium paced strutting melody with a relaxed Rollins solo and an interesting feature for Watkins' French horn. This instrument adds a different dimension to the music and when Watkins and Rollins harmonize together on the melody the sound is unusual and pleasing. Wrapping up this session and album are two takes of "Think of One." Take 2 is first, and I think it is the superior of the two, opening with a strong Monk solo then branching off to fine statements from Rollins and Watkins. Take 1 seems to be a little off, as if the musicians weren't quite comfortable with the composition yet, in particular Sonny Rollins sounds unusually tentative, but Watkins steps up nicely with a clearly articulated solo. All Thelonious Monk albums are fascinating and this is no exception. Monk's fertile imagination as a composer and performer are thoughtfully presented here, and this well done reissue also features the original liner notes and a modern day reflection on Monk from Ira Gitler.
Monk -

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