THELONIOUS MONK — Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane

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3.95 | 10 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1961

Filed under Bop
By THELONIOUS MONK

Tracklist

A1 Ruby, My Dear 6:17
A2 Trinkle, Tinkle 6:37
A3 Off Minor 5:10
B1 Nutty 6:35
B2 Epistrophy 3:07
B3 Functional 9:46

Total Time 37:37

Line-up/Musicians

Alto Saxophone – Gigi Gryce (tracks: A3, B2)
Bass – Wilbur Ware (tracks: A1 to B2)
Drums – Art Blakey (tracks: A3, B2), "Shadow" Wilson (tracks: A1, A2, B1)
Piano – Thelonious Monk
Tenor Saxophone – Coleman Hawkins (tracks: A3, B2), John Coltrane
Trumpet – Ray Copeland (tracks: A3, B2)

Track B3 is unaccompanied piano solo by Monk

About this release

Jazzland JLP 46

Recorded In New York; 1957-58

Thanks to EntertheLemming for the addition and snobb for the updates

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Chicapah
One of the most fascinating things about the history of the great jazz musicians is how freely they floated about in the collective music stream like buoyant leaves, bunching together with others for a while, separating to drift alone for a brief period and then sidling up to yet another grouping almost at random. This tendency was never more prevalent than during the timeframe of the mid to late 50s and into the early 60s when these folks were simply trying to eke out an existence that would allow them to continue to practice their craft. In that era there was a community of incredible players that individually went wherever the paying gigs were, hooking up with whoever else was lucky enough to get the call. The music that came out of these usually short-lived gatherings (mostly trios and quartets) is of such a cooperative and somewhat spontaneous nature as to make each instance gratifyingly unique. It’s normal to expect a disc like “Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane” to be superb (and it is) but when sitting back and listening to it I try to picture in my head the recording session as it unfolded with each participant doing their very best to compliment and bring out the best from the others, knowing full well that they might never get a chance to create together again once they left the studio. Some of the finest jazz of the 20th century was generated via these ad hoc coagulations of virtuosos and it just goes to show how sharp, versatile and quick-to-adapt these geniuses were and how fortunate we are to have albums like this one preserved for ourselves and the generations ahead to enjoy.

Following several years of not being able to ply his trade in New York due to having his cabaret card suspended (he refused to testify against a fellow musician regarding a drug bust and suffered the consequences) Monk at last got his permit reinstated early in 1957. Soon after he was offered what would turn out to be a six-month engagement at the Five Spot Club so he promptly put together a band consisting of John Coltrane on tenor sax, Wilbur Ware on double bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. While still in rehearsal for the job an opportunity arose to take the quartet into the studio. Funny, what we now regard as a momentous occasion involving two icons of jazz was probably nothing more than business-as-usual for them both and for the other cats involved. Considering the results, I can only imagine how tight and cohesive their combo became after months of performing together night after night. It must’ve been breath-taking to hear them live.

Opening the album with Monk’s romantic and oft-covered “Ruby, My Dear” gets things off to a wonderful start. It’s a slightly sultry number with a beautiful, sexy melody line designed to entrance and seduce. Coltrane’s saxophone solo is exquisite, containing lighting-fast runs that emanate straight from his heart and directly into his instrument. Thelonious’ piano ride is equally satisfying, as well, and the whole tune has a sumptuous aura that’s hard to describe. “Tinkle, Tinkle” follows and it’s a playful, up tempo tune wherein John darts and dashes hither and yon like an industrious honey bee collecting nectar. Every time I hear him emoting in his element (as he is here) I’m awestruck by his amazing skill. Monk, by necessity, is more controlled during his solo but that’s because he’s solely responsible for holding the chord structure together while embellishing the central theme. The rock-solid rhythm section of Wilbur and Shadow never falters for a nanosecond throughout this recording. Next is another standout song, “Off Minor.” Here they’re joined by Gigi Gryce on alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax and Ray Copeland on trumpet to form a formidable horn section while Wilson lets the great Art Blakey sit in on the drum kit. Coltrane’s lead is brash and Copeland’s is tasty but it’s Thelonious that keeps you on the edge of your seat during his solo. This is an energetic and highly entertaining number.

They go back to the basic foursome for “Nutty.” Its friendly melody line leads you into a tune that’s anything but typical. John’s impassioned ride will leave you shaking your head in disbelief as he soars like a confident circus acrobat working without need of a net. On piano Monk messes with the basic theme just enough to let you know who wrote the piece and who is ultimately calling the shots. For “Epistrophy” (a classic of early modern jazz composed in ’42 by Thelonious and Kenny Clarke) Copeland and Hawkins return to punch up this splendid specimen of big band badness built upon a relaxing swing beat. Coltrane and Ray both turn in blistering rides but it’s Shadow’s expressive drums that add a magical dimension to the arrangement, elevating the song from the status of merely above-average fare to the extraordinary. The album ends with an extended rendition of Monk’s solo piano number, “Functional.” He fluidly displays his remarkable mastery of the instrument as he glides effortlessly from one feel to another yet he never leaves the listener behind as he improvises repeatedly. Thelonious had a real gift for taking you through a leisurely but altogether captivating journey at times and this performance stands out as a prime example of that special ability.

Although the session happened in April of ‘57 no one in the public sector got to hear the recordings until 1961. At the time Monk was signed to Riverside Records but Coltrane was still under contract with Prestige and the inevitable contractual conflict kept these cuts locked up for four years until the Jazzland label was finally allowed to release the record. The important thing is that the tunes didn’t fall through the cracks and tragically disappear into oblivion. This is the kind of stuff that has no expiration date and never gets stale. If you have an affection for either of these legendary giants or just want to indulge in and be healed by some primo sounds heralding back to a simpler era when jazz musicians just instinctively knew what to do and when to do it, then this is precisely what the doctor ordered.

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