Having played together off and on for over 40 years, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd are hardly strangers to each other. In the early 1960s, when they led a quartet devoted to Thelonious Monk's music, they could barely find anyone to record them (the exception being the Emanem LP School Days, reissued on CD as Hat Art 6140); today a Monk tribute album is a much more salable item. But despite its title and the presence of two Monk compositions, the title work and "Pannonica," that's not what this is. Rather, it is a kind of newly recorded Lacy sampler, adding to the Monk tunes: one by Duke Ellington ("Koko"), three Lacy works that have been recorded previously ("The Door," "The Bath," "The Rent"), and three new Lacy numbers ("A Bright Pearl," "Traces," "Grey Blue"). The familiarity of the players - who, in addition to Lacy and Rudd, include Lacy's regular rhythm section of Jean-Jacques Avenel and John Bestsch - is both good news and bad news. Certainly, they sound comfortable with each other, but also, given their long association and the mostly familiar material, they don't seem to have been greatly challenged. They sound most comfortable with the Monk tunes and take some chances with the Ellington, but on Lacy's tunes they sometimes stretch out pointlessly. This is particularly the case on the nearly 12-minute "The Bath," which Lacy wrote for a film about a bum who gets to take a bath for the first time in years. The song begins playfully, but it runs on and on until you'd think Rudd was trying to play every possible note on the trombone. Monk's Dream is a warm reunion of old friends, but those friends could have tried a little harder to come up with something fresh.
- William Ruhlmann (All Music Guide)
Things were looking up for Thelonious Monk when he entered the Columbia Recording Studios on Oct. 31,1962, shortly after his45th birthday, to begin working on this album. Just five years after his first significant nightclub engagement-a four-month stint at New York's Five Spot Cafe that represented the start of his belated breakthrough to wide recognition-Monk had established himself as an in-demand regular on the club and festival circuits, with a highly successful European tour under his belt. And after many years of recording for small, jazz-oriented labels-giving the world a series of albums that, for all their striking originality and influence, inevitably reached a limited audience-Monk had signed with Columbia Records, joining an illustrious roster that included the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Leonard Bernstein, and fledgling superstars BarbraStreisand and Bob Dylan.
Clearly, Monk had made the big time. Just as clearly, he had done it on his own terms, without the slightest hint of compromise. Monk's ascent from obscurity to celebrity was living proof of the wisdom of his philosophy, expressed in a famous 1959 interview with writer Grover Sales: "I say, play your own way. Don't play what the public want-you play what you want and let the public pick up on what you (sic) doing-even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years."
Monk's persistence paid off. Monk's Dream, the pianist's first album for Columbia, was released in early 1963 with considerable fanfare, its back cover filled with admiring quotes from jazz authorities-one of whom, Martin Williams, called Monk "the first great jazz composer after Duke Ellington," an opinion that was by no means as widely held then as it is now. (Ellington himself obviously held Monk in high regard: at the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival, Monk appeared as a special guest with Ellington's orchestra, playing a spirited blues and a rousing Billy Strayhorn arrangement of "Monk's Dream.") The album was enthusiastically received by critics, musicians, and listeners, and went on to become the most successful of Monk's career.
It also, for better or worse, set the pattern for Monk's seven-year tenure at Columbia. Virtually every album he recorded for the label adhered to the same format-some would say formula-in terms of both personnel (his working quartet, with Charlie Rouse prominently featured on tenor saxophone) and repertoire (a mix of Monk originals and a few standards, almost all of which he had recorded earlier in his career). This approach- which, while it certainly offered a consistent showcase for Monk's unique talents, can hardly be described as either imaginative or challenging-provoked increasing criticism over the years. But regardless of the validity (or lack of validity) of such criticism, it can't reasonably be applied to Monk's Dream.
Indeed, it could be argued that this album is suffused with as much freshness and vitality as anything Monk ever recorded. Monk was too single-minded and too dedicated to allow negative circumstances to affect his music adversely-some of his most exhilarating recordings were made when his career was at a low ebb-but it's understandable that his playing on Monk's Dream would reflect the dramatic upturn his career was taking. Monk was in a good mood when he laid down these sides, no doubt about it-and the sound of Thelonious Monk in a good mood is among the happiest sounds in all music.
Prior to the Monk's Dream sessions, Monk had recorded with a variety of groups of different size and instrumentation, but his decision to use his working group of Rouse, bassist John Ore, and drummer Frankie Dunlop makes perfect sense in light of the fact that they had been together for almost two years at the time-marking the first time that Monk had been able to keep a band together for more than a few months. The quartet plays here with the kind of cohesiveness and attention to nuance that comes from performing together steadily for responsive audiences; of course he'd want to show his band off.
As for the repertoire-well, it certainly wasn't very new. Of the three standards and five originals on the album, only one tune, Monk's "Bright Mississippi," had never been recorded before-and in a way it qualifies as an old tune, since it's simply a very basic melody line superimposed on thechord structure of "Sweet Georgia Brown." Interestingly, Monk had first recorded three of the selections-the title tune, his bouncy "Bye-Ya" and the old chestnut "Sweet And Lovely"-at the same Prestige Records session in October 1952. The two blues had both been recorded for the Riverside label in the fifties (both, as it happens, with slightly different names: "Five Spot Blues," named after Monk's favorite venue, was originally called "Blues Five Spot," while "Bolivar Blues," named after a Manhattan hotel, first saw the light of day as the intriguingly phonetic "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are"). And Monk's two poignant solo features, "Body And Soul" and "Just A Gigolo," had both been in his book for some time.
But because of the relative obscurity in which Monk had spent so much of his career, most of his compositions-and his highly personal readings of others' compositions, of which his radically reharmonized "Body And Soul" is an excellent example-were still not that well known beyond a hard core of musicians and aficionados. And at any rate, his interpretation of the material here is so inventive, and so buoyant, that regardless of how "old" or "new" it is, it could never for an instant be considered stale-then or now.
A quarter of a century ago, the release of Monk's Dream was hailed as a significant event in Thelonious Monk's career. Today, its value lies not so much in its specific historic significance as in the fact that it captures one of the most important figures in American music in superb form, leading an outstanding group and playing with a spirit, a level of energy and a degree of commitment that are timeless and inspirational.
Recording dates-10/31/62- "Bye-Ya," "Bolivar Blues" 11/1/62- "Body and Soul" (remake)
"Bright Mississippi" 11/2/62-"Sweet and Lovely" (remake), "Just A Gigolo,"
"Monk's Dream" 11/6/62-"Five Spot Blues"
Produced by Teo Macero
Recorded on October 31, 1962 and November 1, 2, and 6, 1962 at the Columbia 30th
Street Studio, NY
Digital Remix Producer: Teo Macero
Digital Remix Engineer: Tim Gee/an
All digital engineering and mastering at CBS Studio, NY
Jazz Masterpieces Series Coordination: Mike Berniker and Amy Herot
Originally released as CS 8765 and CL 1965.