Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk was there at the birth of the jazz avant-garde of the 1940s, bebop. But Monk was something of an outsider even to those restless types-where most pianists (and soloists) would try to dazzle with as many notes as possible, Monk had a minimalist's approach-and he'd let the silences speak as loudly as the notes. Monk never used 50 notes when one or two well-placed one would do. His tunes were wry, sly, angular and unpredictable yet beguiling-his "'Round Midnight" is one of the most enduring tunes in the jazz cannon. Many of his tunes are as addictive as a freshly-opened bag of Cajun-spiced potato chips.
This compilation collects prime Monk from all phases of his career, spanning his earliest tracks for Blue Note ("Well You Needn't") to the trio for the European label Black Lion ("Nice Work If You Can Get It," just before Monk went into retirement/seclusion). In between there's a jaunty and futuristic "Blue Monk" (hear how he anticipates Cecil Taylor, Keith Tippett, Marilyn Crispell, et. al.), Monk with a small orchestra, solo ("'Round Midnight") and leading small groups accompanied by fellow legends Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Max Roach. (Not to mention Phil Woods, Percy Heath, Oscar Pettiford & Art Blakey.) This volume of KEN BURNS JAZZ is a near-perfect a primer/sampler of one of the most idiosyncratic geniuses in American music in general and jazz in particular.