Thelonious MONK – Big Band and Quartet In Concert 1963

Thelonious MONK – Big Band and Quartet In Concert 1963
CS 8964


This is a recording of the legendary pianist’s December 30, 1963 concert at New York’s Lincoln Center. The concert was something of a landmark, and commemorated Monk’s transformation from a long-standing controversial figure into a position as an Old Master (Time magazine put his portrait on the cover in early 1964). Quite simply, jazz had caught up to where Monk had been for 20 years. In a world where John Coltrane was developing his sheets of sound technique and people such as Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy were destroying long-held musical boundaries in the genre, Monk’s idiosyncratic melodies and playing style, full of long pauses and near-atonal note clusters in the midst of otherwise standard bebop piano solos, simply didn’t sound that weird anymore! As a result, this excellent and beautifully recorded concert functions as a long-deserved musical homecoming.
This is one of pianist-composer Thelonious Monk’s greatest recordings and represents a high point in his career. Performing at Philharmonic Hall in New York, Monk is heard taking an unaccompanied solo on “Darkness on the Delta” and jamming with his quartet (which had Charlie Rouse on tenor, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Frank Dunlop) on fine versions of “Played Twice” and a previously unreleased rendition of “Misterioso.” However, this two-CD set has its most memorable moments during the six full-length performances by a ten-piece group. Monk’s quartet was joined by cornetist Thad Jones, trumpeter Nick Travis, Steve Lacy on soprano, altoist Phil Woods, baritonist Gene Allen, and trombonist Eddie Bert. Jones and Woods have plenty of solos and, although Lacy surprisingly does not have any individual spots, his soprano is a major part of some of the ensembles. Most remarkable is “Four in One,” which after one of Monk’s happiest (and very rhythmic) solos features the orchestra playing a Hal Overton transcription of a complex and rather exuberant Monk solo taken from his original record. This album is a gem and can be considered essential for all jazz collections.

One of the most original pianists and composers in jazz history, Thelonious Monk had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up to him. He gained early experience being in the house band at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 1940s, developing his unique style while playing nightly after-hours jam sessions. While the music that resulted from the sessions developed into bebop, Monk came up with a percussive style influenced by Duke Ellington that was completely apart from bop. By 1947 when he made his first recordings as a leader for Blue Note, he was writing complex songs that had their own logic. His piano playing was sparse and rhythmic in an eccentric way while hinting at earlier stride pianists.

Although jazz is a music that prizes individuality, Thelonious Monk was considered too advanced even by the bop generation and he rarely worked in the early 1950s. His situation changed permanently in 1957 when a summertime engagement at the Five Spot with John Coltrane in his quartet was too exciting to ignore. Monk was discovered and became such a major name, that in early 1964 he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The ironic part is that his music of the mid-1960s was no different than his forbidding sounds of the mid-1940s.

On December 30, 1963 when he was at the height of his fame, Thelonious Monk played a Philharmonic Hall concert with his quartet and a small big band. This double-CD, which expands upon the original LP, features Monk at the peak of his powers. He takes Darkness On The Delta as an unaccompanied soloist, his regular quartet with tenor-saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Butch Warren and drummer Frank Dunlop are showcased on a couple numbers, and the rest of the long program features a 10-piece group comprised of the quartet, cornetist Thad Jones, trumpeter Nick Travis, Steve Lacy on soprano, altoist Phil Woods, trombonist Eddie Bert and baritonist Gene Allen. Although Travis, Lacy, Bert and Allen do not get to solo (they are major parts of the ensembles), Jones and Woods have plenty of solo space.

Among the highlights are I Mean You, Evidence, Oska T., and especially Four In One. The latter includes a transcribed Monk piano solo arranged for the full ensemble (it sounds remarkable) and one of Thelonious’ most catchy improvisations.

This is one of the great Thelonious Monk sets, and serves as a perfect introduction to listeners not familiar with the unique Monk’s music.
By Scott Yanow. AMG.
Thelonious Monk- (Piano);
Steve Lacy- (Soprano Sax);
Phil Woods- (Alto Sax, Clarinet);
Charlie Rouse- (Tenor Sax);
Gene Allen- (Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet, Clarinet);
Nick Travis- (Trumpet);
Thad Jones- (Cornet);
Eddie Bert- (Trombone);
Butch Warren- (Bass);
Frank Dunlop- (Drums).
Side One
A1. I Mean You  12:42
A2. Evidence  12:38
A3. (When It’s) Darkness On The Delta  5:03

Side Two
B1. Oska T.  9:20
B2. Played Twice  6:24
B3. Four In One  11:03
B4. Epistrophy  2:00

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