Thelonius Monk was one of the most enigmatic and eccentric of jazz's founding fathers. His unusual style and use of "non-musical", angular chords, flew in the face of conventional jazz wisdom of the 1940s. Not one to be deterred by his music's early detractors, Monk persevered, and by the early fifties, his music began to find much wider acceptance among listeners and fellow musicians alike. Today, Thelonius Monk is regarded as one of the most influential and important figures in jazz history, his unique style often emulated, but rarely duplicated, by modern jazz pianists.
Monk's two-night appearance at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival, originally recorded by Storyville Records, has recently been reissued by Mobile Fidelity on two gold UltraDisc II compact discs using their exclusive GAIN© system.
Monk's sidemen for the Monterey dates included his more-or-less regular tenor man Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and drummer Frank Dunlop.
The four tracks included on Volume 1 are divided between the two nights of the quartet's festival appearance: I'm Getting Sentimental Over You and Well You Needn't were recorded on September 21st, and Evidence and I Mean You were recorded the following night.
The disc opens with I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, a song Monk recorded and performed often throughout his career. After Monk's gentle solo introduction, the band exuberantly jumps into the fray, Rouse demonstrating why Monk thought so highly of his playing throughout their thirteen year association. Monk's arrangements usually left lots of room for improvisational solos by himself and his sidemen, this one being no exception: Monk's spartan yet well-crafted solo is nicely complimented by Ore's large bass tone and Dunlop's punctuating snare and cymbal work. The ever-inventive Ore manages to sneak in a clever echo of the song's main theme during his solo, something he does with great effectiveness time and again throughout this disc.
The Monk original, Well You Needn't, highlights Monk at his quirky best, slipping in pounding, choppy chords between the rhythmic lines drawn by the terrific bass and drum work of Ore and Dunlop. This time its Dunlop's solo which echos the song's main theme - no easy feat on a drum kit!
The disc is rounded out by the two tracks taken from the September 22nd date, the Monk compositions Evidence and I Mean You. On these two tracks, and the two recorded the previous night, the band's abundance of live energy, synergy and fun-loving spirit have been preserved exceptionally well by MoFi's sensitive remastering.
Although I don't have the original Storyville on hand for comparison, in absolute terms, MoFi has done a terrific job on this reissue. A few master tape problems aside (at 4:52 of track 1, for example), the remastered sound is excellent. Monk's piano sounds terrific, without the clangy quality that some jazz recordings from this era exhibit. Rouse's sax has just the right amount of bite without sounding harsh, Dunlop's cymbals and drums sound wonderful, and Ore's big, punchy bass tone is well represented.
MoFi has been criticized in the past for its selection of reissue material. Such criticism is certainly unjustified of this Monk set as it beautifully documents this jazz giant at the height of his career. An exceptional release in ever way, and one which should put a big smile on the face of every lover of Monk's music.
-- Andrew Chasin