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Music Review: Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane

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The pairing of Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane was an inspired one. Both were to have a profound impact on jazz, yet when these recordings were made, neither artist was considered particularly “major.” Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane was recorded in 1957, during the time of their legendary residence at New York’s Five Spot Café. Due to record company politics, the tracks sat in the can until 1961.

The majority of the album consists of four quartet sides recorded in summer 1957, with Wilbur Ware on bass, and Shadow Wilson drumming. The ballad “Ruby, My Dear,” opens the record, and is a fine showcase for the deep tone John Coltrane used on slower numbers. Monk takes a short solo towards the end, but this is mainly ‘Trane.

“Trinkle Tinkle,” and “Nutty,” are both examples of what it must have been like at the Five Spot that year. The upbeat tunes see all four men playing with a unique fire. While Coltrane has not yet moved into his famous “sheets of sound” approach, his solos are fast and furious. You can tell Monk is a fan just by the way his piano comments on what ‘Trane is doing. This is joyous music.

There are also leftover tracts from the Monk’s Music sessions included. “Off Minor,” and “Epistrophy,” add Coleman Hawkins on tenor, in addition to ‘Trane, as well as the trumpet of Ray Coleman. The great Art Blakey is present on drums, which keeps things very lively. In fact, Blakey is almost the star of both cuts, as his drums are all over the place. Hawkins is the featured soloist on “Off Minor,” which is a pretty swinging tune. After Blakey’s rollicking opening, John Coltrane gets a chance to let loose on “Epistrophe.” Ray Coleman displays his trumpet chops pretty powerfully on this one as well.

The original LP concluded with the indescribable “Functional.” This is Thelonious Monk improvising completely solo on his piano, for nearly ten minutes. The man had a remarkable mind, and I defy anyone to listen to this piece and argue differently. The song is simply spectacular, I could listen to him like this all day long.

There is a bonus track available for the first time on this 24-bit remastered edition of the album. “Monk’s Mood,” was recorded by the main quartet of Monk, Coltrane, Ware, and Wilson for the Thelonious Himself record. This is an alternate take of the song. It is another ballad, and performed exquisitely. The way John Coltrane and Monk weave around each other during the course of the piece is something to hear.

More often than not the pairing of two "legends" results in disappointment for everyone. Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane is a wonderful exception. And the remastering job Original Jazz Classics has done with it is superb. I consider this one a must for the discerning jazz fan.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Greg Barbrick

    This album is great, and you might want to check out the Live At Carnegie Hall, which was just recently unearthed. It is from ’57 also, and features the quartet in a live setting.