This album documents the first studio performance of Charlie Rouse with Thelonious Monk (he'd also had a role earlier in the year--1959--in Monk's Town Hall concert). It is also notable for the inclusion of the cornetist Thad Jones, who is still perhaps better known as a composer & bandleader, but who was also a fine soloist. The band is completed by the bassist Sam Jones & drummer Art Taylor.
Like most of Monk's Riverside albums this follows the usual pattern of introducing one or two new (& difficult) Monk originals to a program otherwise made up of older more familiar (& easier) Monk tunes. The two new tunes here are "Played Twice" & "Jackie-ing": the former is presented on this CD in 3 different takes (each of these new tunes proved sufficiently demanding that they each took up an entire studio session; the other 3 tunes were recorded on yet another day, making this a 3-day session). "Played Twice" is an interesting tune which never quite got a definitive reading--the originally released LP had take 3 spliced with the ending of take 2. The casual listener will want to program out the extra takes, but in fact they're quite welcome here, though on the whole I think this the least achieved track from the album. "Jackie-ing" is the standout track: first, because of its slippery, bridgeless theme, rounded off by three clangorous chords from the piano; secondly, because the brisk series of improvisations show all the musicians at their best. In this case, unlike the case of "Played Twice", the unfamiliarity of the tune & the added tension in the studio help give the performance a bright edge & telling concentration. (Monk originally failed to bring along the music, tried to teach it to the other players by singing it in the studio, then was forced by the protesting musicians to return home to retrieve the music.) -- The three other tunes, "Straight No Chaser", "Ask Me Now" & "I Mean You", are given relaxed, confident readings; "Ask Me Now", the session's one ballad, is a beauty, & Rouse's solo on "Straight No Chaser" is a particularly good one. Rouse isn't as brusquely in command on this album as he is on say the later _Monk's Dream_, but his work is certainly harbinger of the close relationship between tenorist & pianist in years to come.
I think this album doesn't rank with Monk's most imposing work. For one thing, it's a tad unfocused: all of the tracks except "Jackie-ing" hover around the 10-minute mark, & I get the impression that Monk was trying to get the album made in a hurry, Prestige-style (originally he recorded just the four long tracks & told Orrin Keepnews that was enough for an album--Keepnews pointed out that 38 minutes was a rather ungenerous playing-time, & asked for one more tune, hence the return of the musicians to the studio to record just "Jackie-ing"). But it's a solid album, & will be enjoyed by anyone interested in Monk. I should add that another version of "Jackie-ing" with Rouse was recorded in an equally fine version in Italy in 1961--this LP, _Monk in Italy_ was Monk's last disc for Riverside, & like the companion _Monk in France_ disc is unjustly little-known.