This double-CD package of a single Tokyo gig during Monk's seven-date tour of Japan is being issued in the United States for the first time on compact disc. Of the many bootlegs of the shows Monk played there in 1963, be assured that Columbia has chosen the best one for official release. Recorded in the middle of May in 1963, this was one of the last tours Monk would undertake with the rhythm section of drummer Frankie Dunlop and bassist Butch Warren. The group had been together since 1959, and Monk was looking in new rhythmic directions as he entered fully into his record deal with Columbia. The band comes out steaming with "Straight, No Chaser," with its lyrical off-meter strut swinging through a weird 5/8 time signature. Rouse solos first, winding through a Dexter Gordon ballad ("Star Eyes") and through to some of Monk's faves that would be played later that evening, such as "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Evidence." The tone is rough, raw, and punchy. Rouse swung hard his entire life and his '60s- period playing is easily his best. Monk takes up the solo with interesting counterpoint figures at harmonic odds with the key signature of the tune but, true to form, he could bend any pitch worth messing with to get the right harmonic balance. When he starts plunking down cluster chords followed by higher- to lower-register slide runs, the tune's up for grabs. It's Dunlop's dancing drumming and Warren's steady if unimaginative playing here that keeps it grounded. Given the adulation of the Tokyo audience, Monk slides easily into "Pannonica," with his solo quoting "Liza" and "Uptown" in the same eight measures. Rouse is at his level swinging best on "Just a Gigolo." After a rousing and harmonically bizarre ride through "Bemsha Swing," Monk introduces the "Epistrophy" theme and carries it through the rest of the gig in suite form. The tunes between the theme and its full-on jam treatment are "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," "Hackensack," and a stinging "Blue Monk," which creates the seamless opportunity for the band to shift rhythms and changes and move into a harmonically dense yet flowing final round of "Epistrophy." The solos of both Monk (in which he quotes Errol Garner, Bud Powell, and Teddy Wilson) and Rouse (which uses the hard bop approach to go sailing over the band by double-timing the rhythm section) are as breathtaking as they seem effortless. The Japanese audience howls its appreciation, making for a finely recorded ending to this phase of Monk's career. The CD sound is improved over the Japanese issues and far cleaner than either of the LP versions. What's more, no additions or deletions were made from this performance, meaning it was originally issued exactly as it happened. For the many who believe Monk did his best work on the bandstand, this set is a fine point to make in your argument.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)