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The Best Of by Thelonious Monk

This is one of the more exciting collections on Monk, given its brevity and compactness. In 10 songs the brilliance of the master pianist and composer is well communicated. The opening "’Round Midnight," recorded solo in 1957, is introspective and enticing. The following "Off Minor (Take 5)," cut the same year, the maestro is joined by Ray Copeland on a well played trumpet, Gigi Gryce on alto, John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins on tenors, Wilbur Ware on bass and Art Blakey on drums. As awesome as the players are, the arrangement is simply spellbinding, with voicings and changes that take the tune beyond the scope of the more familiar version.

Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, the usual Monk horn foil, is joined on the 1959 version of "Jackie-ing," a version that works beyond the norm. Here Thad Jones shares the front line on cornet offering a superb version of a classic tune. Sam Jones and Arthur Taylor lay the foundation, and Monk lays back, as he does on "Off Minor," in almost an accompanist role. The version of "Well You Needn’t, performed by the same group that gave us "Off Minor," is mesmerizing. The version of "Caravan," with Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke serving as accompanist to the pianist, allows Monk to stretch out and work off the master bassist and drummer in a delightful manner.

"I Mean You," with Thad and Sam Jones, Rouse and Taylor, is an almost outside take. "Ruby My Dear" is as beautifully performed as I’ve heard. Coleman Hawkins was a genius a few years ahead of Monk, bassist Wilbur Ware and Blakey. The pianist and tenor giant mesh seamlessly on this greatest of Monk’s ballads. "Brilliant Corners," recorded in 1956 with alto saxophonist Ernie Henry, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach plays with signatures and time, offering a plodding opening that breaks into a gallop and allows all parties to stretch. Monk is playful and clever throughout.

"Let’s Call This," a tune rarely heard, was cut in 1960 with trumpeter Joe Gordon, Charlie Rouse and Harold Land on tenors, John Ore on bass and a young Billy Higgins at the traps. From Land’s solo to those of Gordon and Rouse, the connective string is Thelonious Monk’s radiant mastery of the keys. The closing 1957 version of his "Straight, Mo Chaser (Take 3)," on which he is joined by Gerry Mulligan, Wilbur Ware and Shadow Wilson, is a jaw dropper. Mulligan’s heavy foil to Monk’s light to heavy runs, works wonderfully. All in all a masterful collection.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Thelonious Monk
  • CD Title: The Best Of
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Riverside
  • Rating: Four Stars
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