Review

THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners

Album · 1957 · Hard Bop
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5/5 ·
js
Not only is “Brilliant Corners” one of Thelonious Monk’s best albums, but its also considered one of the better recordings in the history of jazz. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks from this one though, instead, most of these blues based tunes are played in laid back medium tempos, or even slower, but do expect maximum creativity and a brilliant ensemble that moves together as one mind. Monk does have a particularly strong crew assembled here, with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach on board, plus Ernie Henry and Oscar Pettiford are no slouches either. Clark Terry and Paul Chambers replace Henry and Pettiford for one cut, but they too are up for the great interplay that goes down on this disc.

The album opens with the title cut “Brilliant Corners”, and what a tour de force this one is. This composition has Monk working with rapidly changing tempos and time signatures, such things may be more common today, but this was fairly new ground in 1957, and “Corners” still sounds very modern and ‘cutting edge’ today. This is followed by the laid back avant-blues of “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are”. Although “Bolivar” may not be as radical as the album opener, it still leaves plenty of room for ‘Monkish’ off-kilter solos and slippery interactions. Side two opens with the ballad like “Pannonica”, on which Monk plays the delicate bell like celeste. His odd approach to harmony sounds even more peculiar on this keyboard, the resultant exotic sounds might have you thinking that we are now in a universe parallel to Sun Ra.

“I Surrender Dear” is a standard that Monk plays in old school stride style and it is the only non-original piece on the album. Its presence acts as an interesting contrast to the more ‘out there’ aspects of the other numbers. The album closes with the Afro-Carribean flavors of “Bemsha Swing”, on which Max plays rumbling tympanies behind the soloists. Monk’s second solo after the trumpet is just splashes of sound and color, foreshadowing the world of avant-garde jazz that was right around the corner in ‘57. If you want to hear why so many jazz fans get effusive when discussing Thelonious Monk, give this one a spin.
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