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you get what you pay for
on 18 February 2012
First the good news - despite what I've read about products from this label elsewhere, there are no glitches, dropouts etc. or any content missing. The set straddles Monk's Prestige (1952-54) and Riverside (1955-61) periods, though the latest material on here is from 1957. It contains nearly all the Prestige material, apart from the session he recorded with Miles Davis in 1954, on which Davis was the leader. Once we get into the Riverside material, it's more cherry-picked as Monk recorded very extensively in 1955-57 and not everything he recorded in that period is here - no Brilliant Corners, for instance.
The most important bad news is that the sound is not great. It's not spectacularly bad, either - fairly listenable in fact - but a direct comparison with the Complete Prestige Recordings shows a quite noticeable difference on that material. Given Musicmelon (the parent company issuing this stuff) is clearly surfing the the now doomed 50 year copyright rule, I'm not sure what the source is for this material, but I'd say it was most probably early CDs - it doesn't sound like it's been transferred from vinyl, though some of their releases supposedly have been; the only thing that matters really is the quality, which is only tolerable here. The less said about the packaging, the better - the 4 CD double jewel case did not arrive intact (though still just about viable); the original album sleeves can only be seen in a collective photo on the front in which they overlap each other; they do not appear in the order of either recording or release on the CDs.
The main use of this set, for me, was finding out whether I liked large amounts of this stuff enough to shell out for the more premium quality box sets - the answer was yes, because much of the content here is quite superb. I'm particularly fond of the trio recordings from the earliest Prestige sessions, but there's much to like throughout this set and quite a few other jazz legends cross Monk's path here - Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Max Roach and John Coltrane, for starters.
So if you're looking for a way into Monk, or operating on a budget, this set is worth buying, though not for £15 (I see Amazon's price has dropped considerably since I wrote that...) If you're already there, and can afford them, buy the two box sets - you'll get nearly* all this material in much better sound, and much more besides, especially on the Riverside box, of which less than a third is to be found here - and the remainder is unlikely to be available at this sort of price. Plus, the Riverside set is not actually expensive for its size (16 CDs)
*This set's one item not covered on the Prestige or Riverside sets is Art Blakey'S Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk; given that apart from one tune this fine album consists entirely of Monk compositions and he plays on every track, it certainly counts as a Monk album, though that is not to disparage the contribution of Art Blakey or his band. But of course you can buy it separately, in its original sleeve. So don't buy the set just for this album.