2 LP on 1 CD
##1 - 5 - Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (4*) Prestige/OJC1953
This CD wraps up Thelonious Monk's recordings for Prestige and makes a fine complement to the OJC CDs Monk and Thelonious Monk Trio. Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins (in exuberant form) gets co-billing, and two of the songs ("The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Want to Be Happy") are actually from his own Prestige date; Monk was not a sideman for just anyone. The original version of "Friday the 13th" (which features Rollins and the French horn of Julius Watkins) and trio renditions (with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey) of Monk's compositions "Work" and "Nutty" are also included on this excellent release. [A 20-bit remaster of Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins was released in October 1999.]
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
## 6 -10 - Brilliant Corners (5*) Riverside/OJC 1956
Although Brilliant Corners is Thelonious Monk's third disc for Riverside, it's the first on the label to weigh in with such heavy original material. Enthusiasts who become jaded to the idiosyncratic nature of Monk's playing or his practically arithmetical chord progressions should occasionally revisit Brilliant Corners. There is an inescapable freshness and vitality saturated into every measure of every song. The passage of time makes it all the more difficult to imagine any other musicians bearing the capacity to support Monk with such ironic precision. The assembled quartet for the lion's share of the sessions included Max Roach (percussion), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Oscar Pettiford (bass), and Ernie Henry (alto sax). Although a compromise, the selection of Miles Davis' bassist, Paul Chambers, and Terry Clark (trumpet) on "Bemsha Swing" reveals what might be considered an accident of ecstasy, as they provide a timeless balance between support and being able to further the cause musically. Likewise, Roach's timpani interjections supply an off-balanced sonic surrealism while progressing the rhythm in and out of the holes provided by Monk's jackrabbit leads. It's easy to write Monk's ferocity and Forrest Gump-esque ingenuity off as gimmick or quirkiness. What cannot be dismissed is Monk's ability to translate emotions into the language of music, as in the freedom and abandon he allows through Sonny Rollins' and Max Roach's mesmerizing solos in "Brilliant Corners." The childlike innocence evoked by Monk's incorporation of the celeste during the achingly beautiful ode "Pannonica" raises the emotional bar several degrees. Perhaps more pointed, however, is the impassioned "I Surrender, Dear" - the only solo performance on the album. Brilliant Corners may well be considered the alpha and omega of post-World War II American jazz. No serious jazz collection should be without it.
- Lindsay Planer (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
THELONIOUS MONK & SONNY ROLLINS
The position of legendary figure is usually reserved for a deceased musician who has played two decades before. It usually requires this posthumous status and span of time for the various stories concerning him to grow into a legend, but it took a very much alive Thelonious Monk only five years to surround himself with an air of mystery and receive the title "High Priest of Bebop" in the Forties. Perhaps this element of weird glamour prevented many people from enjoying Monk's music to the fullest extent. Certainly he is always a low man on the totem pole whenever the triumvirate of the founding fathers of bop is evaluated. This is due in part, no doubt, to the greater solo prowess of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, but Thelonious's contributions in time, chord patterns, and the original lines resulting from them were unjustly minimized. Actually they were the basis for much of the jazz of the Forties and Fifties.
Today he stands as an individual, a highly original musician who is the mentor of many young musicians in New York and the influence of countless others all over the globe. In his writing and playing, he consistently proves his right to the often misapplied title of creator.
November 13, 1953 was a Friday. At WOR Studios preparations were being made for the recording date that would soon commence. Julius Watkins, who had been called in as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Ray Copeland, warmed up in muted tones. Percy Heath and Willie Jones made separate entrances and soon the scheduled two o'clock starting time was clearly indicated by the studio wall clock (a constant visual magnet at most recording sessions) without there being a sign of Thelonious Monk or Sonny Rollins. Someone half-laughed "Friday the 13th," and there followed much pacing, more clock-watching, and a few phone calls. In the neighborhood of three o'clock, Monk and Sonny arrived. Their cab had rammed the rear of a motorcycle, causing no physical injury but considerably delaying the affairs of the afternoon and adding greatly^ to the usual anxieties of recording. From then on it was a battle against the red second hand, plus 'the fact that Julius had not seen the music before, another handicap. Any accomplished musician should have no trouble sight-reading, and Julius didn't, but there was the matter of getting the feel of the tune and its chord changes which is something never to be achieved with celerity, unless by someone of Charlie Parker's ilk.
"Friday the 13th" was an inevitable title. Its mood seemed to fit the happenings of the day. Everybody reflects a sadness although in different degrees. Sonny, Julius, and Monk each solo at length. Then the three engage in four-bar conversations after which Monk solos again. Drummer Willie Jones solos over and under the final melody statement.
As a belated sequel to Thelonious's successful trio sessions of 1952, this one was also richly rewarding. Though not a great soloist from the standpoint' of technique, brilliance, and flash, Monk's originality of style and width of idea serve to make him a highly interesting and important one. His playing can be characterized by roast beef and a martini in which vermouth plays a very minor and supporting role: much meat and very dry.
The trio often serves as a workshop for Monk's combos with the lines being embellished by Monk for his large group.
"Work" and "Nutty" are thought-provoking themes by Monk that serve as energetic workouts for the trio. Percy is a tower of strength throughout, contributing solos of note on both. Art is always building something while swinging; his solos, are delights of rhythmic perfection and imagination and Thelonious is a past master at rhythmic patterns and time sequences.
Almost a year after the "Friday the 13th" session, Monk and Sonny Rollins were reunited on record. Two of the most fertile minds in modern music took two jazz standards and explored them. Sonny was closer to Charlie Parker then (but no imitator) with indications of further development along his own lines clearly shown. Monk, as always, made something extremely personal of the material at hand whether he had written it or not.
Both "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Want to Be Happy" are swingers with hope and optimism running through them.
-Ira Gitler (these notes appeared on the original album liner)
Thelonious Monk remains among the most challenging, provocative and disturbing figures in modern music. He has consistently been described in such terms for as long KB he has been on the jazz scene-which is precisely as long as there has been modern jazz, for Monk of course was one of the principal molders of the new jazz. He will very probably continue to be described this way. For Monk s music is decidedly not designed for casual listening. Everything he writes and plays is jazz into which an important creative talent has put more than a little of himself. Thus, inevitably, Monk and his music demand the most difficult thing any artist can require of his audience-attention.
Thelonious Monk's music can also be among the most rewarding in modern jazz. And it is that (to those who will listen) for exactly the same reasons that it challenges, disturbs and demands: because Monk is himself. What he oilers is not smooth, public-relations-conscious artifice or surface skills, but merely the music that is in him and that he is impelled to bring forth. There are men who can bend and shape themselves and their work (perhaps to fit current public taste, perhaps to suit the, aims of a stronger artistic personality). There are others whose natural, undiluted self-expression manages to strike a responsive chord in lots of souls, or at least seems to. Finally, there are those non-benders and non-conformers who don't happen even to seem easy to understand. Among these is Monk, and for such men the basic audience can consist only of those who are willing to try a bit to grasp the stimulating, intensely rewarding message that is being sent out.
These comments are not intended as any sort of fairly clever reverse-twist psychology (you know: "only very hip people, like me and like you-who-are-reading-these-notes, can really dig Thelonious"). On the contrary, we at Riverside feel very strongly that the whole emphasis on the exceedingly far-out and "mysterious" nature of Monk's music was seriously overdone during the early years of his career, so that many who would have been interested in listening (and very probably would have found themselves quite able to listen) were frightened away in advance.
Fortunately, this situation has been almost completely remedied: there now seem to be quite a few people-including critics, an ever-increasing number of musicians, and a thoroughly hearteningly large number of just plain jazz lovers-willing to make the effort and to reap the rewards of digging Monk. Not only has Thelonious been a consistent winner of, for example, the Down Beat Critics Poll, but in both 1958 and 1959 he ranked just one short step from the top in that 'magazine's Readers Poll. And club audiences from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, and at many spots in between, have flocked to hear him in person.
This album was actually one of the major factors in the successful battle to win new and wider acceptance for Monk. In the sequence of his Riverside discography, it followed two initial albums (RLPs 12-201 and 12-209) devoted entirely to 'standards,' and offered the first occasion on this label for Thelonious to express himself basically through his own writing. Creating music for five instrumental voices in terms of his personal and 'unorthodox construction, approach and phrasing, he produced some startlingly brilliant examples of the great depth, wit and strength of his style.
It should be noted at about this point that Monk's music is not only not the easiest listening, it is also not the easiest to play. Musicians could save themselves a lot of trouble by not recording with Monk-but it's a form of trouble that a great many of the best have long considered a privilege (as well as an education in itself.)
Sonny Rollins is a wonderfully inventive, strong-toned artist who has leaped to the front ranks among tenor men and had amazing and far-reaching influence on his contemporaries. Ernie Henry worked in Monk's Quartet in 1956 and lain with Dizzy Gillespie's big band; his untimely death in 1958 cut short a career of vast promise. Surely Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach no longer need fancy descriptive adjectives; by now their names alone tell the story of their pre-eminence. When Henry and Pettiford were unavailable for the album's final session. Thelonious called on top-caliber replacements: Clark Terry, a stand-out trumpet with Duke Ellington from 1951-59; and Miles Davis' brilliant young bassist. Paul Chambers.
These men worked hard. They struggled and concentrated and shook their heads over some passages with those half-smiles that mean: "Hard? this is impossible!" For the original compositions on this date represent Monk at his most inventive and therefore (to repeat myself) at his most challenging. Brilliant Corners, with its uneven meter and its tempo changes, is undoubtedly the real back-breaker, but this doesn't mean that the others are simple: Pannonica, which I'd describe as a near-ballad with guts; the blues, which has lots of extended blowing room (and don't neglect to dig the several things Monk is doing behind the horns) ; and Bemsha Swing, only one of the four originals not specifically prepared for this record date-Thelonious wrote it several years ago, with drummer Denzil Best, and has recorded it twice previously, but comparison will show that it hasn't remained static during that time.
(A note on the odd title of the blues: it is merely an attempt to set down phonetically the pronunciation Monk insisted on as most fitting for what might most simply be called Blue Bolivar Blues.)
These musicians worked hard, also, because Monk's creativity never stands still: during a preliminary run-through of a number, between 'takes' or even during one, changes of phrasing or of detail will evolve, as a constant fusion of arrangement and improvisation keeps taking place. Sometimes even instrumentation gets altered a bit. Thelonious came across a celeste in the studio, decided it would go well in Pannonica, and so set it up at right angles to the piano" to be able to play celeste with the right hand, piano with the left, during part of this number. Similarly, it was an impromptu bit of experimentation that resulted in Max Roach's 'doubling' on tympany and drums through Bemsha Swing, in most unorthodox and effective fashion.
And Monk is a hard task-master at a recording session, a perfectionist ("I've never been satisfied with one of my records yet," he says, and means it) who knows just how he wants each note bent and phrased and who drives the others as hard as he drives himself-which, in an abstract sense, is possibly a little unfair of him.
In the end, it wasn't "impossible"-merelv far from easy, and in the end everyone else was satisfied and Monk probably almost satisfied. And the final results are obviously very much worth having accomplished and (to return to the first theme of these comments) worth paying attention to.
(these liner notes and credits are reproduced directly from the original album)