After his debut recordings as a leader in 1947, it was quite a while until Thelonious Monk returned to the studio as a leader. His next two sessions for Blue Note, in the summer of 1951 and spring of 1952 are collected as "Genius of Modern Music, Volume 2". Although LP technology was available, Blue Note chose to keep Monk in the single format.
The first session, from the summer of '51 finds Monk with perhaps the first frontline that truly "got" his music in alto saxophonist Sahib Shihab and vibist Milt Jackson, with bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Art Blakey anchoring the session. With the exception of a reading of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (which Monk curiously recorded for Blue Note in 1947 as well), all the pieces are Monk originals, and this level of focus benefits the band, whether it's the midtempo oddball "Criss Cross" (which works nicely with the odd frontline), ecstatic "Straight No Chaser" (which curiously flounders a bit on Shihab's solo), or piano feature "Ask Me Now", where Monk really shows just what he's capable of.
The second session produces far less interesting music, with Monk accompanied by trumpeter Kenny Dorham, reedmen Lou Donaldson (on alto) and Lucky Thompson (on tenor), bassist Nelson Boyd and drummer Max Roach. By and large, it feels as though the horns don't quite get into this as much they should and they seem to get in the way of each other. "Skippy" is fantastic, full of energy and explosiveness, mid-tempo number "Let's Cool One" works reasonably well, but some of the material ("Sixteen", standards "Carolina Moon" and "I'll Follow You") receive straight and largely uninteresting reading. This is most surprising on "I'll Follow You", which sheds the horns entirely and presents Monk in a trio setting.
As part of the Rudy Van Gelder edition of remasters, this album features fantastic sound, given the age of the recording, far superior to the previous issue.
There's enough good music on here to make this one worth digging up, but for interest in early Monk, start with Volume 1.