Monday, December 26, 2022

Thelonious Monk Quartet - Live Five Spot 1958 Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2022)

Things were looking up for the great composer and pianist Thelonious Monk by 1957. His cabaret card had been returned, allowing him to play in New York City clubs again, and he began to get longer residencies at a small Bohemian club called The Five Spot. By the following year he was a staple at that location, recording two live albums for Riverside Records, Misterioso and Thelonious in Action with Johnny Griffin on tenor saxophone, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The original LP's took tracks from a few different recording dates, but this disc focuses entirely on the August 7, 1958 recordings, giving the listener two sets of prime Monk. "Light Blue" opens the show in a slow and mellow fashion, where Monk chooses to stick close to the melody at a  comfortable medium tempo with little elaboration. Johnny Griffin stretches out on "Coming on the Hudson" and builds a solo faster with quicksilver twists and turns around Monk's falling blocks of chords. He lays out, as Monk plays mini cascades of notes over solid bass and drums. "Rhythm-a-Ning" has a fast rippling piano melody, launching Griffin on a very rapid and propulsive saxophone feature with Monk offering the spare chord for guidance, but the barn door is open and Griffin is just gone. At some point Monk has stopped comping entirely and you can just imagine him doing the little shuffling dance he did when one of his sidemen was red hot. Griffin finally runs out of gas and Monk takes up with bass and drums to add some unique pianistic styling that place a final emphatic mark on this special track. The wonderfully simple theme of "Blue Monk" leaves so much room for players to create, and Griffin starts his solo in a witty and engaging manner, as Monk allows him plenty of room to maneuver, backed by only bass and drums. Griffin's solo is one of complex tumbling notes that are played immaculately even at hyperspeed. Monk takes a lighter touch to his own feature, refracting the piece's light in a number of interesting directions, leading to a bass solo with Monk gently framing and a nice percussion interlude to conclude. "Evidence" has a knotty, complex theme which tests the players skills and offers much freedom, as shown by Grifffin taking the bull by the horns and leaning into another light and nimble feature, then stepping on the gas as the drummer provides heavier beats. The speed of Griffin's bebop flavored runs are fascinating, juxtaposed against Monk and the rhythm section who play the straight man. The sound of the pianist with bass and drums is another matter, not one of speed, but of a wellspring of ideas, adding just the right touch at just the right time to create beauty. "Nutty" has an angular choppy piano theme along side brushed percussion, as solid bass walks the line. Monk plays in a precise form, buoyed by his interaction with the bass and drums, opening up an interesting brief solo from Haynes who makes use of his entire drum kit. With a simple splash of color, Monk opens "Blues Five Spot" which Griffin picks up upon and amplifies, then breaks out into clusters of quick fluttery notes. He kneads the notes that come out of his horn, developing a thoughtful and unusual solo that evolves the music and plays against his type as "the fastest horn in the west" as he plays unaccompanied and throws in wry quotes. Monk adds subtle phrases amid bass and drums, allowing his sidemen (particularly Haynes) room to shine as well. The music is excellent throughout this album. Monk worked with many saxophonists including Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane in the 1950's but none quite had that "ride or die" attitude that Griffin did. Ezz-thetics worked hard on sound restoration and remastering, clearing up what have always been slightly muddy recordings, and including an essay from Art Lange for historical context. Live Five Spot 1958 Revisited - Squidco

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