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Down by the Riverside
on 14 June 2011
There is jazz and there is Monk. Not that Thelonious Sphere Monk would have thanked me for the distinction. Monk was steeped in the jazz tradition, and the more I listen to him (always a pleasure, never a chore) the more I hear echoes of the earliest New Orleans jazz, along with Ellington and other peerless pioneers.
This sensitively remastered reissue from the useful Not Now label gives the greedy Monk disciple three perhaps lesser known Monk albums in a handy `soft` box, with packaging & sleevenotes kept to an economical minimum - no bad thing - the only quibble I have being that this could easily have been squashed onto two CDs rather than three, though at the price - who cares!
Alone In San Francisco is Monk superbly alone, and is one of the treasures of the surprisingly prolific Monk catalogue. (The recent exhaustive, essential biography by Robin DG Kelley makes it clear, among much else, that Monk did not always find it easy to get work, whether in the studio or the clubs, for a variety of reasons, so we must be thankful there is so much Monk available.) He plays six originals and four standards beautifully. This is a fine complement to the 2-CD Monk Alone, which collects all his later solo recordings for Columbia, and which is non pareil.
The stunning 5 By Monk By 5 (the sleeve gets the title a bit wrong) is quite an ear opener, featuring Monk`s loyal sax sideman Charlie Rouse at his best alongside the unlikely presence of cornet player Thad Jones (1923-86). It works! It works because it almost doesn`t, Jones`s approach being a trifle pedantic, a touch heavy-handed at times, but Sam Jones (1924-81) on bass and Art Taylor (1929-94) on the drums keep the whole thing pounding along, Monk interjecting when he feels the urge. I love Monk`s recordings when they feature a soloist who has to work hard for his living - and Monk could be impatient with players who didn`t, couldn`t, or wouldn`t `get` his music.
To my mind, Rouse (1924-88) does some of his most eloquent, least predictable work on this album. Thad is recorded as if he`s in a separate echo chamber somewhere, but it doesn`t matter because it gives proceedings a strangely eerie feel, and elevates his cornet to realms that give it a gravitas it might not otherwise have had. The whole set is a joy, and one you`ll want to play often, I guarantee. It`s an untypical Monk album, which makes it all the more to be cherished.
I once had the LP of Mulligan Meets Monk. I loved it then, and I love it to bits now. Monk played with an eclectic range of sidemen, including Miles, Coltrane, Rollins, Hawkins, Eldridge, Griffin, Woods...and Mulligan - never, sadly, Chet Baker, and what might that have sounded like...! The crew-cutted baritone master
holds his own, playing some pointed, articulate phrases, rich in sound and invention. Wilbur Ware (1923-79) on bass and drummer Shadow Wilson (1919-59) get into the spirit of this particular adventure with sensitivity and quiet grace. Monk has rarely sounded quite so relaxed, and Mulligan (1927-96) makes this, rightly, as much his date as Monk`s. A hugely underrated, too often overlooked album.
These are sessions Monk made for Riverside in the late 50s. They sound as urgent and pristine now as they must have done to their first hearers, those lucky souls.
Very highly recommended.