Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser (Columbia 1967, 1996)

Composer and pianist Thelonious Monk's Columbia Records recordings are occasionally disparaged as not being quite as vital as the records for Riverside and Blue Note that came before them. This is unfortunate, as it was Columbia that allowed Monk's stature to increase beyond musicians and die hard fans, gave him a chance to tour the world and appear on the cover of prominent magazines and add a stable income to what his heroic wife Nellie was bringing in. This album, not to be confused with the Monk documentary of the same name (which is well worth watching) this is the 1996 extended edition of the album originally recorded in November of 1966 and January of 1967 with his stalwart group including Larry Gales on bass, Ben Riley on drums and Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone. The 1996 version is markedly different than the original LP that was released in 1967, at that time, significant editing needed to be done to the performances to have them fit into the LP format. With the technological and format advances of thirty years later re-issue producer Orrin Keepnews (Teo Macero produced the original album) restored three titles to their unedited length and added two extra contemporaneously recorded performances to fill this compact disc to it's 1996 limit. The booklet contains a few period photographs of Monk, but it mostly given over to Keepnews' original 1967 liner essay and a new set of 1996 reissue liner notes. The music is a joy to listen to, being a mix of Monk originals (he wasn't writing as much new material at this stage, but was still producing) and his unique take on the music of Duke Ellington, some well worn standards and a very interesting extended exploration of a Japanese folk song. A lot of Monk material, notably on the live albums, but also studio sessions fell under the editor's blade, none more than "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)" which is restored to a near seventeen minute running time with the bass and percussion interludes included. It's necessary to hear the performance as a whole, to understand the organic level in which the whole group worked together to create their music. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and the brief "This is My Story, This is My Song" are lovely unaccompanied Monk performances, Monk's angular approach makes even the oldest standard fresh, while keeping the melody and thematic story well in mind. Of the Monk compositions, one of his last, "Green Chimneys" is included as a bonus track, while the band delivers wonderful treatments of "Locomotive," "We See" and the title track, playing at an inspirational level as they as they are on the two takes of the Ellington number "I Didn't Know About You." There's a lot to unpack on this album, one of his last for Columbia and not long before he would fade from public view altogether. It's definitely worth checking out, the CD can be had for a song or through your streaming service of choice, and Monk's music is the gift that keeps on giving. Straight, No Chaser - amazon.com

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