THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall. (Thelonious Monk, piano; John Coltrane, saxophone; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums) – Blue Note

by | Oct 26, 2005 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John
Coltrane at Carnegie Hall. (Thelonious Monk, piano; John Coltrane,
saxophone; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums) – Blue Note
35173 *****:

It doesn’t get much better than this. The November 29, 1957 benefit
concert at Carnegie Hall had a lineup worth inventing a time machine
for: Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Chet Baker, Zoot
Sims, Sonny Rollins and . . . the Thelonious Monk Quartet. Buried in
the Library of Congress archives for decades, the tape recently
resurfaced. What a document! What a listening treat! This rare
recording not only shows Monk at his peak and Coltrane near his (in one
of their only recordings together), it’s also a transition disc, coming
when bebop’s star was fading fast and modal jazz was just poking
through its shell. This extraordinarily well-preserved recording has a
bit of both styles.

The famous Crepuscule with Nellie begins slowly, almost sluggishly as
the melody struggles to break free. “What’s it going to turn into?” the
listener asks. A twilight rendition, of course, a jazz nocturne with a
slow lazy swing like a lopsided hammock. Nutty is precisely that, a
cluster of crazy improvisations by both musicians, with Monk spending
more time warping the lead melody than Coltrane, who’s busy soaring
meters above it. Bye-Ya begins with a tightly structured bebop melody
lead by Monk, then breaks off with Coltrane in one of his brilliant
scalar voyages. But listen to Monk’s accompaniment: a chord here, two
or three notes there. Exquisite seasoning until his solo, more rhythmic
than Coltrane’s, quoting old melodies with “wrong” notes and sudden
chord shifts. In Blue Monk, he plays a piano solo that has some of his
most innovative (and slightly demented) tunes. Now and then the melody
pokes through like a nude woman under a sweaty sheet, then scampers
off. Unfortunately bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Shadow Wilson
never get solo moments, but they provide rich textural backups, full of
percussive textures and connective tissue. Monk and Coltrane complement
and pass off to each other with gallantry and grace, neither genius
hogging the scene. They play Epistrophy twice and the second time it
features Coltrane experimenting more in the modal jazz style than in
the first. Gradual shifts in mood, then improvisation based on scales
rather than chords, finally an abrupt ending. Rats! The tape ran out.

– Peter Bates
 

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