Recorded in New York May 14 and 15, 1957
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk (1958) was one of a number of landmark projects that Monk (piano) would record during the remarkably prolific spring and summer of 1957. In addition to this confab, he also documented the solo platter Thelonious Himself (1957), as well as Monk's Music's (1957) with a septet, and even going toe to toe with another respective pair of his formidable contemporaries on Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (1957) and Mulligan Meets Monk (1957). However in this classic confrontation, Art Blakey (drums) and his concurrent Jazz Messengers - featuring the talents of Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Bill Hardman (trumpet), and Spanky Debrest (bass) - play host to the pianist on his only sides for the venerable Atlantic record label. As one might anticipate with an artist whose catalog almost single-handedly defines bebop, the vast majority of the cleverly chosen material consists of Monk standards. While both co-leads rise to the occasion with thoroughly expressive performances throughout, this incarnation of the Jazz Messengers reveals a particularly potent support. During "Evidence," Hardman unleashes a powerful lead into an equally inspired keyboard run of enthusiastic chord progressions and advanced phrasings from Monk. Griffin's interminable bop mentality effortlessly punctuates "In Walked Bud" as he almost immediately pounces into the free swinging melody with a verve that refuses to subside. From Blakey's boisterous opening to "Blue Monk" right through to the single-note crescendo during the finale, the Jazz Messengers provide a lethargic propulsion that showcases the tune's bluesy origins. This directly contrasts the up-tempo charge of "Rhythm-a-Ning." The quirky-yet-catchy chorus bounces from the dual-lead horn section with the entire arrangement tautly bound by the understated Debrest and Blakey. Griffin's "Purple Shades" is a smartly syncopated blues that is more of a musical platform for the Jazz Messengers than for Monk. That said, his opening solo alternately shimmers and shudders with Debrest as well as the two-piece brass section demonstrating its own pronounced capabilities over Monk's counterpoint. This European release contains an additional three full-length "alternate takes" of "Evidence," "Blue Monk" - which in some ways bests the released version - and "I Mean You." These are the same supplementary sides that are included on the Rhino Records 1999 North American domestic CD reissue of this same title.
All Music Guide