Monk. Jazz people react with reverence, some rock people with awe and respect, whilst others go "Huh?" The late Thelonious Sphere Monk was one of the most pure jazz musicians ever, a truly unique player even in a world of unique types. When he burst upon the NYC jazz scene in the mid-1940s, some musicians even thought Monk couldn't play. (Heck, it took my rock- and free-jazz-wracked brain a couple of decades to appreciate Monk.) Long before any concepts of "minimalism," Monk was a minimalist, saying the most with the least possible notes. Before aspects of atonal or serial music had been widely (or at all) accepted in jazz circles, Monk would let "spaces" and "silence" do the talking for him just as surely as European composers Alban Berg and Anton Webern. While many jazz musicians blew up a storm making the sounds swing, Monk's version of swing seemed effortless, sly, and understated.
This-here Thelonious Monk Trio CD contains Monk's music - all but three of the 10 songs are his own - of the early 1950s, post-Blue Note but prior to the stardom that came his way with Columbia. Masterpieces with Coltrane, Charlie Rouse, and large ensembles were a few years away, but what TM was doing here is pretty groovy too - listen to how "Sweet & Lovely" sounds so oblique, so simple and so frantic, so agitated while being cool as the other side of Brubeck's pillow.
What makes TMT so notable - aside from just being by Monk - are the drummers on these dates. Art Blakey, king of polyrhythms, is a great foil for Monk, and so is, alternately, Max Roach, though Roach is a little more "straight" bebop drummer while Blakey is more all-over-the-kit, more out-front than "behind" Monk. Still, Roach is crisp as a fresh bag of potato chips.
Fans: Now you can have a nicely digi-remastered version of this classic disc; Neophytes: It's not a bad place to start, but I'd first recommend the later '50s stuff or the Monk KEN BURNS JAZZ volume. Just forget about all other pianists when listening to Monk for the first time. It'll be easier.