It was a habit among record companies: pair Monk with an unlikely partner and see what happens. Sometimes it worked (Mulligan Meets Monk), sometimes it didn't (a session with Shelly Manne was never completed.) Chalk this in the "works" column:: the Jazz Messengers were on the cusp of soul-jazz when they met the old master. The match was closer than anyone expected: Johnny Griffin, a Messenger at the time, joined Monk later in '57, replacing John Coltrane. The results are striking: on a program that's mostly Monk, the band catches fire - a different kind of soul. Blakey thunders into "Evidence", which is taken faster than normal. The horns theme together, creating Monk dissonance on their own. Griffin is turbulent; Thelonious helps out with percussive jabs. Those notes are all through "Bud"; his solo takes a light stride, Basie with bite. Hear that hot trumpet: it's the overlooked Bill Hardman, hittin' 'em broad and strong.
"Blue Monk" is a New Orleans funeral: the band marches by, then Griffin pops one of his rapid-fire solos. (He quotes "Rhapsody in Blue" - clever, and Monk answers with "Misterioso"!) The theme to "Rhythm-a-ning" is only half-played; then the horns riff it, ending in an odd wiggle. Monk makes that the base of his solo, then Hardman clucks like a chicken. (You barely notice the quote of "Turkey in the Straw".) Art gets two choruses, and hear the toms roll! "Purple Shades" was later done by Philly Joe Jones as "Blues for Dracula"; it's a low-down blues with acidic piano. Griffin has his best turn, then Monk slams weighty notes - a statement. Like this album - Monk could find a place in most any situation.
The alternates are heard for the first time; I'd guess these are first takes. "Evidence has a great tremolo opening but the horns are rough on the theme. (Maybe it's contrapuntal, but it doesn't quite make it.) Monk is a joy - stride leads to a bit of "Straight, No Chaser"! This "Blue Monk" is faster, and jolly in tone. Griffin's turn is very agile, perhaps more melodic than the issued take. Monk is less busy, and "Misterioso" is not quoted. Very fine; I have no idea why this was rejected. "I Mean You" comes slower, and there's a good pull to the bass. Griffin takes quick little sidesteps, then flutters in a way that makes your head spin. Monk lays out on Johnny's turn, and elsewhere is fairly subdued - maybe this explains its exclusion. In all, very worthy efforts, and then it was done. Some players would meet again, but not this unit - a one-time occurrence. And what an event it was.