One of the hottest tracks on Concord Music Group’s latest reissue of Thelonious Monk’s 1957 classic Monk’s Music doesn’t even include Monk. Recorded the day before the album session, “Blues For Tomorrow” is a piece by alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce. Included as a bonus track, the thirteen-minute tune features everyone else from the Monk’s Music band. The rhythm section consists of Art Blakey on drums and Wilbur Ware on bass. Ware takes an extended, meandering solo midway through. Ray Copeland’s trumpet doesn’t figure in until nearly the end, and then only briefly. The sax men steal the show, with Gryce contributing slinky alto work. Dueling tenors John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins absolutely sizzle (especially Hawkins).
The track saw the light of day on a previous compilation, but I believe this is its first appearance on Monk’s Music. Listen to it first as a warm up to the album proper, which brims with Monk’s idiosyncrasies. As the songwriting credits make plain, this is very much Monk’s music just like the title says. Most of these tunes were originally recorded by Monk years earlier with different musicians. The epic take of “Well, You Needn’t” makes room for everyone to solo. The other ten-minute-plus jam is “Epistrophy.” According to newly written liner notes it was an edit of two separate takes. Hawkins solos passionately over the lion’s share of “Ruby, My Dear,” an inventive and richly melodic ballad.
The album’s other ballad is the starkly beautiful “Crepuscule With Nellie,” written by Monk for his wife. The first half is simply Monk’s distinctive piano unaccompanied. The full band joins in for the second half of this haunting piece. An edit of two different takes is carried over as a bonus track from the previous reissue of Monk’s Music. The same goes for “Off Minor,” with take five being the official version and take four the bonus. Both takes are highlighted by the energy of Copeland’s trumpet solos.
As part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, Monk’s Music sounds great for an album recorded fifty-four years ago. The original liner notes by session producer Orrin Keepnews are reprinted. Ashley Kahn, music history teacher at New York University, contributes an informative new essay. If you don’t already have a previous edition of this classic, you can’t go wrong with this one.