Heard most of the contents of this at a live concert - and thus sent for the CD: it is brilliant - though I have many of the well-known tracks on other discs. Highly recommended - you can't have too much Thelonious Monk!
The original LP issue carried 6 tracks. The first CD issue carried 7 and now this re-issue gives 10. The first 7 are by a big band the stand out tracks being both versions of "Little Rootie Tootie". On these Hal Overton has scored the original Monk trio recording, with Art Blakey, for the full band ensemble passages. The effect is quite amazing. The final three tracks are from the same concert and feature Monk with Charlie Rouse, Sam Jones and Art Taylor. These really boot along. I remember this concert getting rave reviews when the LP was issued. Highly recommended.
The first Monk album I ever bought and completely knocked me out (was around 18 or so at the time). Some of the band work is a little on the rough side due to lack of rehearsal I guess but when it works it's stunning. Can still hear 'Little Rootie Toootie' in my head all the time - totally brilliant piece of writing and playing. Remain a huge fan of Monk to this day (now 75) and was lucky to see him live on 2 occasions when touring the U.K. Unforgettable.
Monk was usually heard in a quartet but this album is a bit different to most of his other albums as he is backed by a large ensemble, including players such as Phil Woods and that stalwart of large jazz ensembles Bob Northern. Most of the arrangements are sympathetic to the originals and simply add more depth to the main themes.
By far the most interesting track is Litte Rootie Tootie where, as another reviewer has noted, Monk's lively solo on a former trio track is scored for the large horn section and sounds fantastic. There is a tendency to lump Monk in the bop category when his playing doesn't always have much in common with other bop players. He was, I think, influenced by the whole history of jazz and this comes out in this track as you can hear the influences on his playing of, amongst others, Ellington.
The album is an interesting experiment that shows a slightly different side to Monk but overall it is a little bit of a hodge podge. The opener is a bit tentative, Friday the 13th is good but the album peaks a bit too early with Little Rottie Tootie and there is, due to recording difficulties, an alternate encore version of this song which isn't that different to the first version. There are however three bonus tracks from the concert featuring Monk in a quartet with the wonderful Charlie Rouse that swing nicely and it's clear from Monk's playing that he is happier playing in this format.
It seems pretentious to comment on a concert performed in 1959. As far as I know this was a unique project for Monk; the only time that he performed with a large ensemble. It is an interesting experiment, but as is evident by the three quartet recordings made in the first half of the concert (with Charlie Rouse (tnr)) Monk's music is really small group music. These tracks really stand out as being altogether more confident. However it would be wrong to denigrate the big band tracks or to regard them merely as an interesting historic occasion. The music is better than that. Certain tunes seem to work better than others e.g. "little Rootie Toot".