Thelonious Monk Septet: Thelonious Monk (piano); Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone); Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Ray Copeland (trumpet); Wilbur Ware (acoustic bass); Art Blakey (drums).
Recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, New York, New York on June 26, 1957. Originally released on Riverside (242). Includes liner notes by Orrin Keepnews.
This historic 1957 session, beginning with Monk's favorite hymn ("Abide With Me") and ending with the composer's most affecting ballad ("Crepescule With Nellie"), functions as an overview of his career. As such, MONK'S MUSIC, Thelonious' fifth album for the Riverside label, is a shot across the bow of the hard bop movement.
A cubist intro by Monk and Wilbur Ware sets the tone for an extended seven-piece rendition of the pianist's classic "Well, You Needn't," with a fiery underpinning by Art Blakey. Monk is at his angular, bluesy best, opening with Charlie Christian-like percussive accents. He grows more taciturn in the second chorus, unleashing some of his most dynamic rhythmic devices before crying out for "Coltrane, Coltrane." Monk, Ware and Blakey drive Trane relentlessly, and the tenor giant responds with taut, screaming lyricism. Monk responds to Copeland's Gillespie-ish shouts with child-like glee, then recedes as Blakey ghosts Ware's dark, driving punctuations before his own polyrhythmic explosion. Coleman Hawkins enters on the crest of a drum roll with operatic fervor, followed by a feline Gigi Gryce, a coy Monk and a final reprise of the theme. A classic moment in jazz.
But MONK'S MUSIC contains numerous highlights. Contrast Hawkins' elegant, barrel-chested machismo on the ballad "Ruby, My Dear" with Trane's rendition a year later on THELONIOUS MONK WITH JOHN COLTRANE. There are two takes of "Off Minor," one of Monk's most swinging lines. Hawkins comes off the starting blocks of the master take like a pit bull, Copeland responds in kind, and Monk follows with dissonant shards of counterpoint and harmonic subversion. Coltrane draws first blood on the spooky "Epistrophy," obviously inspired by Hawkins' steely melodic focus and Monk's probing cross-rhythms; Gryce's solo illustrates his fresh approach to the alto, and Blakey's solo, with its crushing rolls and extraordinary bent tones, is a masterpiece.