The Columbia Years, 1962-1968, Monk in Tokyo, and Live at the Jazz Workshop Complete (Columbia/Legacy)
Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, Fri., July 13, 2001
The Columbia Years, 1962-1968(Columbia/Legacy),
Monk in Tokyo (Columbia/Legacy),
Live at the Jazz Workshop Complete
(Columbia/Legacy) Thelonious Monk was such a genius musician that anything he recorded is worth having. That said, some of his recordings are more significant than others. His Blue Note discs are most important, followed by his Prestige, Riverside, and finally Columbia albums, portions of which are contained on The Columbia Years, 1962-1968, a 3-CD compilation. As Monk grew older, he took fewer chances, wrote far fewer original compositions. Still, this is Monk, and so-so work by his standards is fabulous by most pianists'. Many of the recordings here are quartets with tenorman Charlie Rouse, bassists John Ore or Larry Gales, and drummers Frankie Dunlop or Ben Riley. There are also assorted trios, unaccompanied solos, and big band tracks along with rare collaborations with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and Jon Hendricks. By the Sixties, Monk was, by jazz standards, a celebrity. This was due as much to his celebrated eccentricities as the quality of his musicianship, but in any event, it got him more bookings and income. He'd developed a vocabulary of his own years earlier, and hadn't added much to it. Here, he plays well within himself, but by others' standards his work is far out. His sense of humor is in evidence here as well, as on his stride version of "Dinah." And what a strong, solid sense of architecture he demonstrates on "Don't Blame Me" and "When It's Darkness on the Delta." Saxophonist Charlie Rouse reached his peak with Monk, synthesizing elements of the styles popularized by Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins, and recorded Sonny Rollins-like solos before Rollins did. Back in the Forties, Rouse repeated himself far too often, running pet licks into the ground. With Monk, he still uses trademark phrases, but far less often and more discreetly. The angularity of his playing went hand in glove with Monk's playing, and he paces his work lucidly. Rouse and Monk developed a rare empathy. The other two Monk albums here are 2-CD sets cut live at the Jazz Workshop in 1964 with Rouse, Gales, and Riley, and live in Tokyo in 1963, with Rouse, bassist Butch Warren, and Riley. On these live sets, Monk doesn't do anything new, but his playing is spirited and full of humor. Again, by standards of Monk's previous work this material isn't revolutionary, but his groups exhibit a mastery that shouldn't be taken for granted.