I am a big fan of jazz in most of its forms. From the early trad improvisations of Biederbeck and Bechet, through the hi-de-ho of Calloway and the scat of Armstrong, to the experimentalism of Davis and Mingus. And Duke Ellington, in my eyes, was the King. But there are two artists who I keep coming back to, who's records I listen to again and again, who manage to synthesise the boundary pushing of be-bop with the tradition of swing to produce complex, thought provoking yet accessible and foot tapping records. These two geniuses are drummer Art Blakey and pianist Thelonious Monk.
The pair always worked well together, with Monk describing Blakey as his favourite drummer to work with, and any recording featuring them is a special event. And so it is here. Blakey lays down his usual complex beats and rhythms, providing a perfect jumping off point for Monk's keyboard interjections. Monk, as usual, plays with restraint, with the notes he doesn't play almost as important as those he does. There is a real synergy between the two, and a real feel of magic in the air. Added to this is the sympathetic accompaniment of the rest of the Jazz Messengers of the day, Johnny Griffin on sax, Bill Hardman on trumpet and Spanky Debrest on bass. They fit right in with proceedings, and the whole thing comes together as a record of extended, swinging cuts of old Monk tunes that never fail to grab the attention or imagination.
This excellent release from Atlantic has a nice sound, clear and giving each player a distinct voice. There is a decent booklet and essay, and some alternate takes that add to the album. A really worthwhile addition to any jazz lover's collection.