The first thing that you can’t help but notice about this recording is its sound quality; it is simply stunning, especially for a live recording. And then there’s the playing. Wow. What can I say about Monk that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before? He is considered by many to be one of the greatest jazz masters of our time - some would even call him a genius - and this recording certainly lends a great deal of credence to those claims. The fact is, no one can play the notes Monk played the way he played them. Monk had a way of playing the piano with notes that sounded at once mysterious, hip and complex. Under other fingers, the same notes often just sound wrong. Monk played with the kind of energy and focus that few have ever been able to match and that allowed his piano to sing with a truly unique voice.
Sharing the front line with him is long time band mate Rouse on tenor sax. Rouse played in Monk’s quartet for over 10 years (1959-1970) and has always been an important ingredient in Monk’s music. A great bop player, Rouse plays with a beautiful tone and amazingly strong, well constructed lines. There is no hesitancy in his solos - every note is full and deliberate, blazing a clear path through the changes as he paints his musical picture. Rounding out the quartet is Gales on bass and Riley on drums, both of whom also get plenty of solo time and deservedly so. As great as Monk and Rouse are on this recording, it would lose something without the wonderful solos by these two cats.
The CD features seven tracks. Two are unaccompanied Monk tracks ("Body & Soul" and "April In Paris") and the remaining five ("Rhythm-A-Ning", "I Mean You", ‘Well You Needn’t", "Bright Mississippi" and "Epistrophy") feature the full quartet. In addition to the CD, this release includes a bonus DVD of the quartet recorded live in Oslo, Norway on April 15, 1966. The quality of the DVD recording is almost equal that of the CD. It is 30 minutes long and consists of three songs - "Lulu’s Back In Town", "Blue Monk" and "Round Midnight". This really is a delicious treat. There’s a statement printed on the back of the CD case: "You haven’t heard Monk until you’ve seen him". Truer words were never spoken. Watching Monk play somehow seems to bring one closer to his music. This DVD is a must have for old and new Monk fans, alike.
This release is the first in a series of recordings from the Thelonious Monk archives to be released by the newly-formed partnership of Thelonious Records and Hyena Records. Thelonious Records is the label co-founded by Monk’s son, T.S. Monk (also known as Thelonious Monk, Jr.) and Dr. Peter Grain. Hyena Records is the latest jazz label founded by Joel Dorn (who also founded Night Records, 32 Records and Label M). Together they bring a ton of jazz history and experience to this new joint venture and are the perfect team to expose these hidden gems to the world. I eagerly look forward to their future releases.