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Monk, Thelonious Quartet, With John Coltrane / At Carnegie Hall
Album:At Carnegie Hall Collection:Jazz
Artist:Monk, Thelonious Quartet, With John Coltrane Added:10/2005
Label:Blue Note 

A-File Activity
Add Date:2005-10-02 Pull Date:2005-12-04 Charts:Jazz
Week Ending:20 Nov13 Nov6 Nov30 Oct23 Oct16 Oct9 Oct
Airplays:2314579

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Album Review
Fo
Reviewed 2005-10-01 
THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET WITH JOHN COLTRANE
"At Carnegie Hall"

Blue Note/Thelonious Records, 1957/2005

[a much shorter version of this review is on the CD booklet]

At last! After a seven year search, this little gem of jazz history has finally been unearthed, and it's spectacular. PLAY IT ALL!


BACKGROUND:

The nine-month association of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane (April-December 1957) was one of the most important -- and least well-documented -- turning points in jazz.

It was as a member of Monk's quartet that Trane, fired from Miles Davis' band a few months earlier, kicked drugs, found God, and began the personal transformation that took him from an accomplished hardbop player to the very tip of the avant-garde. The famed "sheets of sound" were just starting to emerge, and "Giant Steps" was soon to come. The demands of working with Monk were opening Trane up to new ways of thinking about music, and he often credited Monk with allowing his art to blossom.

As for Monk, he was also flowering in this period. He had just returned to the New York clubs after a legally-mandated exile on questionable drug charges, and was in the middle of a brilliant run with Riverside Records that changed him from a misunderstood iconoclast into an acknowledged genius.

But hindsight is golden, and despite the fact that both artists recorded prolifically in 1957, and spent six months together gigging nightly at the Five Spot Cafe in Greenwich Village, only two recordings of their quartet were known to exist before now: an amateur recording made by Naima Coltrane at the Five Spot, and another made for Riverside's Jazzland imprint. Both of these discs have substandard sound quality, and neither of them features the band's normal rhythm pairing of Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. [Note: there was also a studio album for Riverside, "Monk's Music," which involved a larger band. It's an outstanding record, but Coltrane doesn't have a whole lot of room to himself. Unfortunately the two giants were under contract to different labels at the time, which may be why no other records existed.] So a disc which both features the intact band AND has exceptional sound is a gift from the gods.


THE CONCERT:

The two short sets that make up this album were recorded in concert at Carnegie Hall on November 29, 1957. The event was a benefit for Harlem's Morningside Community Center, and the lineup looks impossible today: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Chet Baker and Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins were all on the bill along with Monk and Coltrane! And the ticket prices ranged from $2.00 to $3.95! I kid you not.

The concert was recorded by the Voice of America for radio broadcast, but the performance apparently never aired and the tapes were effectively lost. Then about seven years ago, historian Lewis Porter spotted a mention of the concert in an old issue of "Downbeat" magazine, and the hunt was on. But the Library of Congress, which had the tapes, is very methodical about archiving and restoration, and thus didn't manage to locate the tapes (which were barely even labeled) until this February.

Production of the tapes for CD was supervised by Monk's son, drummer T.S. Monk, and Blue Note's Michael Cuscuna, with the assistance of GrandMixer DXT, a wunderkind engineer who usually works with Herbie Hancock. The results are fantastic: except for a bit of flatness in the bass, this concert could have been recorded yesterday. The sound both reveals the expansiveness of the room and coveys the intimacy of the small band. It's a very impressive acheivement.

On listening to the disc, it's obvious from the get-go that everybody is having fun. Despite their very different styles, Monk and Trane seem to draw inspiration from each other, and the rhythm section has a solid swing.

Monk's choice of material is pretty standard, as he plays a bunch of his favorite tunes. But "Bye-Ya" (#6) is one that didn't get recorded very often, so it's a special treat to hear it here. And Coltrane's presence keeps all the tunes sounding fresh. This is a very easily digested album, fun to listen to, and quite essential to any collection of Monk or early-period Coltrane.


TRACK BY TRACK:

1. Monk's Mood (7:52) - Opens with light applause, then Monk runs through the full ballad solo, with understated elegance. Trane drifts in, and the second run through the tune is moody with a bit of bowed bass in the background. At 4:30 and again at about 6:00, the tune briefly opens up for full quartet. It's a gorgeous ballad, with Trane gliding above and Monk brooding below.

2. Evidence (4:41) - Jumps right in at a snappy midtempo, then Trane is off and running with fast, dense but highly melodic and soulful soloing. Monk gets increasingly minimal as Trane goes. Monk takes over at 3:00, dancing lightly around his melody.

3. Crepuscule with Nellie (4:28) - Another great ballad, following the same pattern as "Monk's Mood". But the mood is a bit lighter, and Monk is more playful than he usually is on this number.

4. Nutty (5:03) - A light-hearted midtempo swinger. Again, Monk seems to be in a playful mood. Trane takes off at about 1:00, and again it's mind-blowing how he manages to be so complex without going "outside" at all. Monk's solo is vintage, with some fun trills and judicious use of space.

5. Epistrophy (4:28) - Monk's theme, with really nice drums and a great hiccupy swing. Trane carries the melody as Monk adds odd flourishes. Then Trane turns in his most interesting solo yet, not super-fast but with lots of twists and turns. Monk deconstructs the melody, then back to square one.

6. Bye-Ya (6:31) - A popping tune with a rolling rhythm, like a cartoon train. Trane tosses off quick scribbly phrases in his solo, then gets really airy, floating through the melody. Monk then pulls that trick of his where he suggests a solo: you'll hear a lot more than he actually plays.

7. Sweet and Lovely (9:34) - A sweet ballad turned slightly askew, with lots of Monk's odd intervals and harmonies. It's the longest ballad, but also the most intriguing; there's lots of stuff going on here, and all four musicians make interesting choices throughout. It suddenly goes uptempo in the middle of Trane's extended solo (just before 5:00), then turns back on a dime at 7:49. Awesome.

8. Blue Monk (6:30) - Upbeat Monk standard, with the tune and phrasing a little different than usual. Trane plays some gaspingly long phrases, interspersed with little soulful breaks. Monk gets delightfully abstract in his solo, and you can hear him singing as he plays!

9. Epistrophy (2:24) - An incomplete recording, which is a shame, because it's got an interesting rhythmic twist that Trane really seems to like. Fades out at the end of his solo.

[Fo] - October 1, 2005

Track Listing
1.Monk's Mood 5.Epistrophy
2.Evidence 6.Bye-Ya
3.Crepuscule With Nellie 7.Sweet and Lovely
4.Nutty 8.Blue Monk
 9.Epistrophy (incomplete)