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Music Review: Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Alone in San Francisco

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Thelonious Monk (1917-1992) was a true musical original. Over a career spanning nearly 40 years, he left an indelible imprint not only on Jazz, but on music as well. His singular style, both in his personal fashion choices or his approach to piano and jazz are what made him so utterly unique.

Thelonious Alone in San Francisco, his last for Riverside before going to Columbia Records, is rightfully considered one of Monk’s finest. A convergence of events and circumstances allowed for a relaxed, peaceful setting for a recording session that yielded this stellar collection of Thelonious Monk, alone with just a piano.  It was also a planned follow-up to the Thelonious Himself album released a year prior (Monk would record one more solo piano album for Columbia Records titled Solo Monk.  That album, unreleased tracks and all other recordings that were originally placed on other Monk albums were pulled together for the Monk Alone: The Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings: 1962-1968 2 CD set).Monk at Piano

Monk’s playing on this release is such that you cannot help but be pulled into his unique vision. The gentle humor apparent in ‘Bluehawk’ is a testament to his consistent probing, exploring a song in unusual and fascinating ways. That he never recorded this song again (also true with the song ‘Round Lights’) is a shame, yet makes it all the more special as a result.

The mixture of original compositions, pop songs and standards makes for a satisfying listen. His reading of ‘Blue Monk’ on this album is one of the better recorded versions on any Monk release. It retains the confidence of prior appearances, yet stands out more by virtue of being solely Monk’s vision of the song. The same could be said of ‘Ruby, My Dear’ as well. There is a sense of exploration in take one of ‘There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie’ that is at once solemn and playful.

The genius of Monk could be seen in his solo piano recordings. Of the three releases, this one is most likely the best and certainly the most assured in sound, song selection and playing. For fans of Monk or just fans of jazz, this is a must-own recording.

The sound on this release is outstanding: clear, crisp and a joy for the ears. The original liner notes by Orrin Keepnews are included, along with a set of notes by jazz writer Neil Tesser, putting the sessions and the album in historical perspective.  This release is one of six in Concord Music Group’s ongoing series of Original Jazz Classics Remasters.

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About Mark Stratton

Writer of poetry, short fiction, bad fiction, musical countdowns and stuff. He likes pie.