Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners – Craft Recordings

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!

Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners – Riverside Records (1957)/Craft Recordings Small batch Series (2023) 180-gram mono vinyl, 43:03 *****:

(Thelonious Monk – piano, celeste; Ernie Henry – alto saxophone; Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone; Oscar Pettiford – double bass; Max Roach – drums; Clark Terry – trumpet; Paul Chambers – double bass)

As part of the vaunted “small batch” vinyl reissue series, Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered limited edition vinyl of the epochal 1957 Thelonious Monk Riverside album, Brilliant Corners. This was his third recording for the label, and became the most critically acclaimed album in its history to that point. Monk recorded Brilliant Corners over three sessions in late 1956 with two separate quintets (including Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Clark Terry and Paul Chambers). Not surprisingly, the album was among the first selections to the Library Of Congress’s National Recording Registry. It is an essential part of jazz lore.

Side One opens with the epochal title track. As Monk lays down a syncopated piano riff, the hard bop essence of this arrangement is front and center. There are two saxophones (Ernie Henry/alto; Sonny Rollins/tenor) that offer crisp muscular vamps and shading. Additionally, numerous tempo changes underscore the renowned “difficult legacy” of the recording, which including 25 takes of which a few had to be spliced together. Monk’s halting phrasing and minimalist soloing is at the core of the jam. Roach and Pettiford combine for a propulsive anchor. Roach adds a terrific solo. It is freewheeling, bluesy and completely fresh. The next cut, “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are” (one of two compositions about his patron)  has a decidedly jaunty finger-snapping vibe, kicked off by Monk and the rhythm section. Pettiford’s walking bass line is groove-infused and the “trio” is in lockstep. Monk is capable of exploring complex melody lines with atonal accents. His playing is soulful. Henry solos first with rhythmic finesse and punctuated, dulcet tonality. Monk is up next with his creative, restrained approach that is so compelling. Rollins brings a denser resonance, but stays in the song’s groove. Pettiford enters and Monk counters during his run. A Roach drum fill/solo is lithe and forceful before the main theme is reintroduced.

Album Cover for Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners, Vinyl PackageIn an instrumental surprise, Monk switches to Celeste on “Pannonica”. This ethereal touch pairs nicely with the dual saxophone lead. This is one of the finest melodies written by Monk and his acoustic piano adds another texture against the alto. A celeste solo is like a musical reverie and when combined with piano, creates a hushed solitude. The horns return for a swaying final verse. The sole cover (“ I Surrender Dear”) is a wistful solo piano piece that captures the intimacy and delicate touch of Monk. Subtle time-signature variations with deft chords and notation are a reminder of this musician’s considerable solo piano gravitas. “Bemsha swing” is a stirring finale. Monk alternates between combining with the double saxophone lead and adding brawny resonance with double bass (Paul Chambers) and drums. Clark Terry adds another musical dimension with his smooth trumpet. Monk follows with another uniquely phrased run before handing it off to Roach and Chambers for their turn in the spotlight. The quintet finishes with cohesive energy.  

This “small batch” (the 5th in the series) is another stellar release by Craft Recordings. The mono sound mix is pristine with a full rich sound produced from the original all-analog master tapes. The 180-gram vinyl pressing (RTI Neotech VR 900/Bernie Grundman) is quiet with virtually no surface noise, hisses or pops. The packaging is top-notch. There is a streamlined outer textured box (with a ribbon pull tab) that houses the single album, and a full-sized insert booklet. The anti-static album sleeve is also superior. Vinyl enthusiasts and jazz aficionados will appreciate the substantial audiophile quality of this release.

Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners

Side One: Brilliant Corners; “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are

Side Two: Pannonica; I Surrender Dear; Bemsha Swing. 

—Robbie Gerson

More information through Craft Recordings

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Album Cover for Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners, Vinyl Package 2


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