This CD reissue of the Columbia LP adds a previously unissued version of "Pannonica" to the original program along with updated liner notes. The high-quality repertoire (which includes "Hackensack," "Tea for Two," "Criss-Cross" and "Rhythm-A-Ning") and some consistent solos from the leader/pianist and tenor-saxophonist Charlie Rouse make this a CD worth picking up.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Cuss-Cross was originally released at the popular high point of Thelonious Monk's byzantine career. The brilliant supremely iconoclastic composer, whose unique approach to jazz "experts" a decade before, was now lionized as the symbol of beat-era cool. A representation of Monk's bemused countenance filled the February 28,1964, cover of Time magazine. Monk was the main subject of a lengthy piece in that issue entitled "Bebop And Beyond," which referred to him as "the ideal Dharma Bum to an audience of hipsters."
It may come as a surprise to those who are not keen students of history or old enough to be grandparents that Monk was almost totally ignored lor most of his life.
Since the early 1960s he has been one of the most recognizable figures in jazz history, a culture hero constantly referenced by the jazz-loving teenager Maynard G. Krebs in the popular Kennedy-era sitcom "The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis," a man whose very name has become an object d'art emblazoned on the side of Amtrak railroad cars on the northeast corridor. Monk s visionary insistence on taking jazz beyond the realm of technique into sheer emotional resonance, his use of rhythmic intensity as an end in itself, his stark, primitivist employment of a piano's percussive nature, and his near-super-natural knack for stating complex melodic ideas with astonishing clarity and simplicity have made him a hero to successive generations of blues, rock, and pop musicians as well as many of the most forward-looking jazz theorists. His compositions have been recorded and performed in hundreds of different contexts.
Earlier in his life, however, Monk was well known only to the coterie of jazz insiders associated with the bebop movements of the 1940s. He had been the house pianist at Minion's Playhouse in Harlem, where bebop was born, and Dizzy Gillespie had cut a version of his masterpiece, '"Round Midnight."
Before Monk ever recorded he had written many of his best-known compositions. His early work is lost to history-he was 30 years old before he signed his first recording contract and spent another decade in near-total obscurity, unable to even perform live during much of that period because he was denied a cabaret card.
Monk's fortunes began to improve after his return to live performing in 1957, when he spent an extended engagement at the Five Spot leading a legendary quartet which included saxophonist John Coltrane. By 1962, with his jazz reputation well established at home and unparalleled abroad, Monk signed his first major-level deal with Columbia, insuring that his music would be heard by a mass audience.
Cnss-Cross was the second album Columbia released under the terms of his new contract. The material was recorded in five sessions- "Hackensack" and "Rhythm-A-Ning" on November 6,1962; "Tea For Two" and "Criss-Cross" on February 26,1963; "Eronel" the next day; "Think Of One" the day after; and "Don't Blame Me," "Crepuscule With Nellie," and "Pannonica" on March 29.
The tracks were recorded in Monk's preferred quartet format with his working band at the time-tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who had been with him since 1959; bassist John Ore, who joined in 1960; and drummer Frankie Dunlop, who completed the group the following year.
The first session produced the set-opening "Hackensack," performed at a slightly slower tempo than the version the same group recorded at a Paris concert the year before. The theme is stated at a pace similar to the original Prestige version. Monk and Rouse share an inside joke on this take, each throttling the same high note "clam" at trie end of the theme's second melodic fragment in a witty reference to the Prestige recording. Monk offers punctuating accompaniment to the Rouse solo before embarking on his own deliberate solo.
"Rhythm-A-Ning," recorded the same day, is a more stately version than the 1957 session pairing Monk with Gerry Mulligan; this take emphasizes the composition rather than the soloing. Monk phrases a short melodic statement to kick it off, which the whole band rephrases. After repeating a variation on that pattern Rouse solos, with Monk offering single-note comments at the end of each bar. Monk solos in dense, rapid-fire bursts of right-handed note clusters. The band returns to restate the theme one last time, with Monk's piano poking through emphatically and adding the last word.
The title track and "Eronel" are recast more or less faithfully from the original Blue Note versions. Both compositions share Monk's dissonant melodic phrasing, particularly intense when doubled by piano and saxophone in close formation. The high-end, eerie resonance went a long way toward establishing Monk's early reputation for "weird" compositions, but the airy freedom articulated by each melodic theme evokes Monk's image of butterflies leaping from spot to spot.
Monk's genius for revealing the architecture underlying the melodic facade of a song is best demonstrated pn his approach to standards. The simpler and more recognizable the tune, the more fun Monk had disassembling it and recasting it as something all his own. His treatment of the Irving Caesar ditty "Tea For Two" is the perfect example of this approach. Monk had originally recorded this tune as part of a set of standards released as his second Riverside project. Then Monk was being demythologized into the role of accessible jazz artist; by the time of this recording, though, Monk was becoming an institution, and his austere reshaping of the simple melodic statements that frame the song was the work of a master cross-referencing his own accomplishments.
Monk's solo pieces are always a revelation. Here he restructures the melancholy ballad "Don't Blame Me" into a musical saga. Monk pulls the song's harmonic structure apart and reshapes it in an emotional, yet magnificently controlled fashion. After a halting, romantic passage he slides into a bluesy reference to the work of another compositional master, Jelly Roll Morion. Monk idolized Billie Holiday, and you can hear him playing along with her definitive reading of this song in his piano phrasings.
"Think Of One" was originally recorded for Prestige in 1954 with yet another of Monk's famous disciples, Sonny Rollins, playing tenor. Gunther Schuller described this bright, almost humorous piece at the time in the premier issue of Jazz Review as "another one-note theme with unisons occasionally flaring out into major sections." The subtlety of the original is translated well here. Rouse in particular plays superbly, completely at home in a situation where a lesser player could well be intimidated by Rollins' fingerprints.
"Crepuscule With Nellie," one of Monk's most heart-wrenching compositions, was written in 1957 for his wife, Nellie Smith, while she was hospitalized with a serious illness. Crepuscule means twilight, and the elegiac mood of the piece is unmistakable. The original version is one of the few remaining artifacts from Monk's historic but tragically under-recorded collaboration with Coltrane. No matter who Monk played this song with, though, the structure was essentially the same. "It's not an improvisation piece," said soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, another Monk disciple. "It's his little symphony. He just plays it, and then that's it." The measure of Monk's satisfaction with this performance comes at the very end when he whispers "Yeah... that's wild."
"Pannonica," written for Monk's friend, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, is a ballad built on a beautiful melody delivered with a bluesy undertone. The song bears an oddly symbiotic relationship with "Crepuscule With Nellie," a distant echoing between the two most important women in Monk's adult life. Taken together here the two songs sound like movements in a larger suite. This is a slightly shorter version of the song than the one which appears later on the Columbia release Monk. After the statement of the theme Rouse solos while Monk actively "listens" behind him, playing tag with the tenor's phrasing before his own solo brings the piece into focus. The final restatement of the theme offers a languorous coda to a brilliant corner of Monk's recording career.
Monk's music seems to address some whole vision not necessarily greater than but illuminated by the sum of its parts. Compositions suggest each other, like individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that lead to a focused image. Each piece is compjete unto itself but collectively they form a larger perception-Monk s way of looking at things.
"Everything I play is different," said Monk. "Different melody, different harmony, different structure. Each piece is different from the other one. I have a standard, and when the song tells a story, when it gets a certain sound, then it's through... completed."
-John Swenson Editor, Rolling Sfone Jazz Record Guide