Thelonious Himself: solo piano by THELONIOUS MONK
On Side 2, #4 only: add John Coltrane, tenor sax; Wilbur Ware, bass New York; April 12 and 16, 1957
1. April in Paris (3:49) (Harburd – Duke)
2. Ghost of A Chance (4:18) (Crosby – Washington – Young)
3. Functional (9:13) (Thelonious Monk)
4. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You (4:01) (Washington – Bassman)
1. I Should Care (3:10) (Cahn – Stordahl – Weston)
2. 'Round Midnight (6:36) (Monk – Williams)
3. All Alone (4:47) (Irving Berlin)
4. Monk's Mood (7:46) (Thelonious Monk)
This, you might say, is an album of undiluted Monk. Like most generalizations, that would be putting things a bit too simply, but the core of truth is there. For, with the deliberate exception of the final selection, this is literally Thelonious Himself - Monk, alone in the recording studio, offering highly personal versions of some standards and some of his own tunes.
Any musician who has had the experience can verify that it is hard (though rewarding) work to play with Monk. To some extent, the whole matter of the "difficulty" of his music has been overdone; but the fact remains that, like any true creative artist, Thelonious proceeds singlemindedly along his own path, and even the many modern musicians who admire him so deeply do not always find it easy to grasp fully or execute perfectly the intricate and demanding patterns that Monk's mind can evolve. This does not mean that Monk playing by himself is a "perfect" situation; for when Monk is with a rhythm section or scoring for horns, the other voicings are fully necessary parts of what he has in mind for the occasion and I do not know of any recording on which the men involved have not ultimate risen (often brilliantly) to meet the challenge. But what is special about this particular album is the rare opportunity it affords to hear Thelonious as he thinks and sounds when he has chosen to be, temporarily, complete in himself.
As might be expected, the overall tone of this album is reflective. The tempos are relaxed and there is a good deal of that sometimes deceptive feeling of searching, while playing, for an idea to explore, of almost unexpectedly finding in a single note or phrase the impetus for a full chorus that follows. This is a feeling that often gives Monk's playing a quality of thinking loud. It isn't that he sounds unprepared, or surprised by the directions in which he takes himself; it is rather, as if he were constantly discovering and rediscovering within himself both new and remembered patterns of music.
It will be clear to anyone familiar with his work that Monk playing alone is not merely a case of a pianist performing quite different in sound, and I think even in conception and approach. It may in part be that, he feels completely free to practice his unconventional and often irregular concepts of rhythmic 'time.' It is also, probably, partly a matter of not having to occupy a portion of his mind with the problems of being a bandleader. On the whole, though, I prefer not to fool around with analysis: the difference is there; hearing it and reacting to it on the one unaccompanied selection on each of Monk's first three Riverside LPs led me to suggest that he makes an entire album that way. He agreed that it would be an interesting venture. (One thing about making suggestions to Monk: you need never fear that he might accept one he considers second rate merely to be polite or politic.)
In addition to everything else, this album seems to provide a definitive answer for whose who perhaps put off by the unorthodoxies of Thelonious' piano technique like to claim that he really doesn't play too well. His performances here are always highly articulate, often (starting with April in Paris) compellingly lyrical. There is a deep grasp of jazz roots and tradition apparent in the blues, Functional (listening to the playback, Monk said: "I sound like James P. Johnson," which is an exaggeration, but an apt one.) And in all cases it's all right out in the open, where you can't miss it.
The art of literally solo piano has virtually disappeared in current jazz, with bass and drums customarily taking over the one time role of the pianist's own left had. While much that is new and valuable has come out of this, there are also piano players with a tendency to sound one handed, and there are surely few men around who could bring off what Monk accomplishes here. Thelonious, who like many revolutionaries has an almost shocking regard for fundamentals, has always had a strong and able left had; thus his efforts here retain an explicit beat and, unquestionably, swing. So, if you like, this LP can readily be taken as just one more object lesson to the effect that, whatever the task he turns to, the still expanding talents of his pioneer jazz modernist enable him to be legitimately different from, and usually superior to, his contemporaries...
Finally, Monk's Mood, where after an opening solo portion, tenor sax and bass are added. When described in advance, this sounded like a break in the unity of the album, but Thelonious insisted that it was entirely fitting. As usual in musical matters, he was right. John Coltrane, the extraordinarily impressive young tenor who came into prominence in 1956 as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet, creates a segment of vast richness and sensitivity, assisted by the equally notable bassist, Wilbur Ware. (And as evidence of younger musicians' feelings about Thelonious, left it be noted that Coltrane came in from his home in Philadelphia specifically to cut this one number with Monk).
Monk is also featured on these other 12-inch Riverside albums –
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK, with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Clark Terry (5-star rating, Down Beat; “Special Merit Album,” Billboard) (RLP 12-226)
THELONIOUS MONK Plays Duke Ellington (RLP 12-201)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-209)
Monk’s Music: THELONIOUS MONK Septet, with Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Gigi Gryce
Other outstanding HIGH FIDELITY LPs of modern jazz include –
SONNY ROLLINS: The Sound of Sonny (RLP 12-241)
KENNY DORHAM: Jazz Contrasts: with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach (RLP 12-239)
The Hawks Flies High: COLEMAN HAWKINS, with J. J. Johnson, Idrees Sulieman (RLP 12-233)
A Grand Night for Swinging: MUNDELL LOWE, with Billy Taylor, Gene Quill (RLP 12-238)
GIGI GRYCE and the Jazz Lab Quintet, with Donald Byrd (RLP 12-229)
Zoot! The ZOOT SIMS Quintet (RLP 12-228)
Trigger Happy: TRIGGER ALPERT All Stars, with Tony Scott, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green, Ed Shaughnessy (RLP 12-225)
This Is New: KENNY DREW, with Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd (RLP 12-236)
RANDY WESTON: Trio and Solo (RLP 12-227)
Presenting ERNIE HENRY, with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Drew (RLP 12-222)
CLARK TERRY Quintet, with Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-237)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording Riverside Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced and notes written by Orrin Keepnews.
Cover by Paul Weller (photography) and Paul Bacon (design)
Engineer: Jack Higgins (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.