Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thelonious Monk - 1961 [1992] "With John Coltrane"

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is a 1961 album by Thelonious Monk issued on Jazzland Records, a subsidiary of Riverside Records. It consists of material recorded four years earlier when Monk worked extensively with John Coltrane, issued after Coltrane had become a leader and jazz star in his own right.
The album was assembled by the label with material from three different sessions. The impetus for the album was the discovery of three usable studio tracks recorded by the Monk Quartet with Coltrane in July of 1957 at the beginning of the band's six-month residency at New York's legendary Five Spot club near Cooper Square. To round out the release, producer Keepnews included two outtakes from the Monk's Music album recorded the previous month, and an additional outtake from Thelonious Himself recorded in April. The latter selection, "Functional," is a solo piano piece by Monk.
It was reissued in 2000 on Fantasy Records as part of its series for back catalogue using the JVC 20-bit K2 coding system. Because of the historical significance of this album it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.

Universally regarded as one of the greatest collaborations between the two most influential musicians in modern jazz (Miles Davis notwithstanding), the Jazzland sessions from Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane should be recognized on other levels. While the mastery of the principals is beyond reproach, credit should also be given to peerless bassist Wilbur Ware, as mighty an anchor as anyone could want. These 1957 dates also sport a variety in drummerless trio, quartet, septet, or solo piano settings, all emphasizing the compelling and quirky compositions of Monk. A shouted-out, pronounced "Off Minor" and robust, three-minute "Epistrophy" with legendary saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Gigi Gryce, and the brilliant, underappreciated trumpeter Ray Copeland are hallmark tracks that every jazz fan should revere. Of the four quartet sessions, the fleet "Trinkle Tinkle" tests Coltrane's mettle, as he's perfectly matched alongside Monk, but conversely unforced during "Nutty" before taking off. Monk's solo piano effort, "Functional," is flavored with blues, stride, and boogie-woogie, while a bonus track, "Monk's Mood," has a Monk-Ware-Coltrane tandem (minus drummer Shadow Wilson) back for an eight-minute excursion primarily with Monk in a long intro, 'Trane in late, and Ware's bass accents booming through the studio. This will always be an essential item standing proudly among unearthed live sessions from Monk and Coltrane, demarcating a pivotal point during the most significant year in all types of music, from a technical and creative standpoint, but especially the jazz of the immediate future. 

Among Thelonious Monk's long stays at New York's legendary Five Spot was a six-month period in 1957 with possibly his most brilliant band, with John Coltrane finding fuel in Monk's music for his harmonic explorations. The quartet only recorded three studio tracks: a sublime reading of Monk's ballad "Ruby, My Dear"; a loping version of "Nutty"; and a stunning version of "Trinkle Tinkle" on which Trane's tenor mirrors Monk's piano part. The CD is completed with outtakes from an octet session that joined Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins and an extended solo version of "Functional."

For five months in 1957 at the New York Five Spot Cafe, the genius Thelonious Monk Quartet included avante-garde tenor saxophone player John Coltrane. Unfortunately, only three songs on this CD feature the Quartet. Personally, I would have much loved to have heard more.
"Ruby My Dear" is a classic Monk tune where Coltrane plays an amazing saxophone on both the melody and on his solo. The genius is Monk's soloing is present in this song, as Monk simply reharmonizes the melody, adding licks with his clumsy style of playing that fits in so perfectly with his melodies.
"Trinkle Tinkle" is my favorite performance on this album, featuring a killer melody and rivetting solos from both Coltrane and Monk. But, a standout here is bassist Wilbur Ware's solo. It is a truly amazing bass solo. When monk plays the bridge during the solo, Ware makes that work with his own solo, which is great musicianship.
"Off Minor" is not the Quartet playing; it is Monk, Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and other horn players. This song has a truly great melody with some solos that are great, but not standouts.
"Nutty" once again features the Quartet. The melody is one of my favorites by Monk because of its playful nature. It does not sound like a typical Monk piece... I hear more Ellington in the melody than Monk. The soloing is also awesome on this song.
"Epistrophy" features the same band as "Off Minor", but this is my favorite version of "Epistrophy" and it features a killer solo from Coltrane.
The final track is obviously a filler with its 9 and a half minutes of Monk playing piano solo on one of his songs called "Functional". The melody and the soloing are both impressive on this song, but it's obvious it was just added becasue they didn't have a lot of material to really make an album of just Monk/Coltrane.
I recommend this album to all jazz fans. I find it so cool when jazz geniuses play together. Ella and Louis, Ellington and Coltrane, Bird and Diz, just to name a few. This is your chance to experience Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, two people who were not widely known as geniuses in 1957, but would emerge to be some of the most legendary jazzmen ever. There may only be 3 songs where the Thelonious Monk Quartet features Coltrane on tenor sax, but in them is so much creativity and superb musicianship.

In the Fifties, jazz artists like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk were among a handful of musicians who shaped the future of modern American music for several decades. The fact that they played together and that their sessions at The Five Spot Cafe were recorded is nearly a miracle, since they were under contract to different record labels. They both appear on another record ( Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants- Prestige LP 7150 ), but they don't play together! So this disc is the sole representation of their musical collaboration.
Ruby My Dear shows the young 'Trane playing mostly in the upper register of his tenor sax, with much vibrato, punctuating the sentiment in the tune. We can hear instantly the facility with which he deals with Monk's harmonic structure in this poignant ballad. Ironic piano solos are commonplace for Monk, but here he is more straighforward, with a half chorus that veers away from the polysyllabic phrasing of 'Trane's tenor. Monk's comping under Coltrane's restatement of the melody is unobtrusively perfect!
On Nutty, Monk's solo echos lines that 'Trane has drawn, showing that the conversation between sax and piano is between equals. The high point of this disc is that Monk and 'Trane clearly speak each other's musical language. Over and over, you can hear the attention they pay to the phrasing of one another, such that they complement rather than compete.
Two of the tunes add several other horns, including Coleman Hawkins, who gives forth with a taut chorus on Off Minor. The drummer here is Art Blakey, whose touch is very different from Shadow Wilson, more cymbal oriented, except for the characteristic press rolls that add exclamation points to solos.
The disc ends with an unaccompanied piano solo -- Functional -- by Monk. It's very sad that there isn't a cellar in Lower Manhattan with a box of tape from other Five Spot session waiting to be discovered. This is the sort of music I never tire of hearing. 

Track Listing

  1. Ruby, My Dear
  2. Trinkle, Tinkle
  3. Off Minor
  4. Nutty
  5. Epistrophy
  6. Functional

Personnel

    Thelonious Monk — piano
    John Coltrane — tenor saxophone
    Ray Copeland — trumpet on "Off Minor" and "Epistrophy"
    Gigi Gryce — alto saxophone on "Off Minor" and "Epistrophy"
    Coleman Hawkins — tenor saxophone on "Off Minor" and "Epistrophy"
    Wilbur Ware — bass
    Shadow Wilson — drums on "Ruby, My Dear," "Trinkle, Tinkle," and "Nutty"
    Art Blakey — drums on "Off Minor" and "Epistrophy"

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