Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thelonious Monk - Prestige Twofer

The jazz "twofer" reissue became popular in the 1970s; these were two specially-priced double albums that had enough playing to either combine two previously-issued LPs or to gather nearly two hours of related material. This collection is valuable for assembling nearly all of  Thelonious Monk's Prestige recordings - it's only missing one alternate take, which I have elsewhere on my shelves.

Thelonious Sphere Monk was one of greatest musicians in the history of jazz. His music was unusual to the point of being unique. Monk was one of the great jazz composers, and his compositional sense extended beyond his "heads," the composed melodies designed as springboard for improvisation. His solos, and even backgrounds for other soloists, were carefully, if spontaneously created to add to the unity of each piece in a holistic way. And he developed his technique so that he had an instantly recognizable sound - no small feat on the piano.

Monk's Prestige recordings sometimes get lost in the shuffle. They date from 1952 to 1954, between his groundbreaking work or Blue Note and his stint at Riverside, which produced some towering monuments of recorded jazz, and which mark the period during which he began to gain fame and critical acclaim. But the Prestige sides are very fresh and inventive; all the Monk originals here are making their first appearance. The tracks are split between trios and quintets, and are mostly very strong musically; only a few are comparatively weaker due to being stretched out to fill time on their original LP issues. I'm particularly fond of the original recording of "Little Rootie Tootie" - didn't every pianist at one time have a train piece? In Monk's hands, the train's whistle becomes a dense cluster that nobody else could have come up with.

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