Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (1957) – Jazzland /Fantasy OJC-039 *****:
Thelonious Monk – Something Blue (1971) – Black Lion /Pure Pleasure Records BLPP30119 *****:
The older session of this pair should not be confused with the Coltrane and Monk at Carnegie Hall album which was issued not long ago. It’s a studio session with better sonics than the Carnegie Hall, and although nearly all jazz albums before 1958 were mono, you’ll hear stereo on both “Off Minor” on Side A and “Epistrophy,” the second track on the B side. With headphone listening, that’s a dead giveaway. These are two of the three tracks on the album listed as “alternate masters” and two of them turn out to be early stereo. [This reissue should really be labeled “stereo/mono” but the practice now seems to be to have no identification of either on any of these earlier jazz reissues since many of them are just mono and some collectors may not want to pay a premium price for a mono reissue. Our Amazon link is for the 2003 Fantasy SACD reissue—probably very similar to this vinyl reissue—since Amazon doesn’t carry the vinyl version…Ed.]
Anyway, two of the tracks here are a quartet with Coltrane and Monk, two are a septet with Coleman Hawkins, Gigi Gryce and Ray Copeland added (plus Art Blakey on drums replacing Shadow Wilson), and “Functional” – the final track on Side B – is just Monk’s solo piano. Coltrane was already experimenting with his more avant material such as “sheets of sound,” but he sounds also heavily influenced by the quirky and original Monk sound. The liner note-writer quotes Steve Lacy as saying you’re got to get the fragrance of Monk’s poetry, and observes that Coltrane is doing some deep breathing. The two septet tracks are a bit of a surprise; they reminded me of the Monk for big band sessions with Hall Overton. Don’t think I’d heard Monk’s solo piece “Functional” before. It really points up the way he could stick in supposed wrong notes but make them sound perfectly right by what he plays around them.
Something in Blue is an all-stereo session originally recorded in London and beautifully re-mastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering there. It’s a trio session thruout, with Al McKibbon on doublebass and Art Blakey again the drummer. Monk had been less active around this time, having lost his cabaret license and also had been ill. George Wein booked him for a world tour with “Giants of Jazz,” and this recording was made while he was on that tour. This was his first trio recording in 15 years and the first one with his old drummer Art Blakey in since the 1957 session.
All eight tracks are Monk originals except for Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (in whose coda Monk throws in a quick reference to his own “I Mean You” and chuckles a little at the very end). “Criss Cross” has an amazing craggy Monk tune which had not been recorded again by him since its original 1951 version (on which McKibbon was the same bassist). “Evidence” is based on the melody of “Just You, Just Me” – in fact Monk bases most of his solo choruses on the “Just You” part. The title tune is a slow one, with double-time triplets and single notes as well as some boogie woogie bass here and there. We also get “Nutty” again as the closer.
There is never any surface noise on the Pure Pleasure vinyls, and on headphones one hears manifold little details in the trio that might escape one both with speakers and CDs, such as Monk’s chuckle.
Monk/Coltrane = Ruby, My Dear; Trinkle, Tinkle; Off Minor; Nutty, Epistrophy; Functional (solo)
Something in Blue = Blue Sphere; Hackensack; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Criss Cross; Something in Blue; Evidence; Jackie-ing; Nutty
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered live vinyl of a great tenor saxophonist.