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Monk's Greatest Music

30 MAR 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI

Thelonious Monk's 1957 Riverside masterpiece Monk's Music, remastered in with bonus alternate takes for the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, is one of the best, and one of my favorite, Monk albums of all time.

Monk centers this septet around Art Blakey, one of the few drummers strong enough to trade blows with the composer's overwhelming rhythms. A few years earlier, Blakey had split time with Max Roach on Monk's first recordings in New York, The Thelonious Monk Trio (available in the Rudy Van Gelder Remaster series). It also features one of the first musicians visionary (or brave) enough to hire Monk, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Only in this ensemble would you call John Coltrane "the other" tenor saxophonist. Gigi Gryce, another Monk favorite, plays alto, too.

Deliciously, Monk begins with the classic hymn "Abide With Me" arranged as a processional for three saxophones plus trumpet -- but no piano. He stretches out and strides his piano into the wobbly "Crepuscule With Nellie," written for his wife, oddly sentimental and blue. The remainder recapitulates some of Monk's most famous early compositions, such as "Ruby, My Dear," which smolders from Hawkins' unquenchable fire for romance.

Heralded by Downbeat as one of the top five albums of 1958, Ashley Khan's new notes call Monk's Music "the haymaker" in the one-two-three combination punch of brilliant albums Monk recorded for Riverside in 1957, following Brilliant Corners and Thelonious Himself. 1957 was also the year of Monk's first historic NYC engagement At The Five Spot (Milestone, 2007).

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