Thelonious MONK – Brilliant Corners 1956

Thelonious MONK – Brilliant Corners 1956
1982 Issue. OJC-026, RLP-226
Recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, New York,in December 1956


By the fall of 1956, Riverside was finally primed to unleash Thelonious Monk upon the jazz world–straight, no chaser. Two superb piano trio albums of covers had set the stage for Monk the composer to re-emerge with horns, and the pianist responded with BRILLIANT CORNERS, one of his greatest recordings, featuring three classic new tunes and two formidable studio bands.

The Sonny Rollins featured on BRILLIANT CORNERS is a far more imposing presence than the young acolyte of previous Monk sessions, ust witness the title tune. With its multiple themes, quirky intervallic leaps, idiomatic rhythmic changes and tricky transitions in tempo, it is one of Monk’s masterpieces–a miniature symphony. So daunting were its technical challenges, that the final ending was edited on from another take. Rollins begins his solo with swaggering composure, boldly paraphrasing Monk’s vinegary intervals and trademark trills, before navigating the swift rapids of the double-time chorus with deft syncopations. Monk plies dissonance upon dissonance in his first chorus, playing rhythmic tag with Max Roach on the out chorus. Ernie Henry’s slip-sliding bluesiness is followed by a brilliant rhythmic edifice from Roach, who maintains melodic coherence at a drowsy tempo, then explodes into the final chorus.

Elsewhere, “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are” is a soulful, easygoing blues, and Monk’s solo is a compendium of pithy rhythmic devices, bent notes and calculated melodic abstractions, played with enormous relaxation and swing. He concludes with heckling big-band figures that form the basis for Rollins’ expressive rhythmic testimonies. Monk employs the bell-like timbre of a celeste to stunning effect on “Pannonica,” one of his loveliest melodies and improvisations. And in closing, “Bemsha Swing” is a hard-swinging, conversational performance, with fine contributions from trumpeter Clark Terry, bassist Paul Chambers and Roach on drums and timpani.
“Brilliant Corners” is the most complex work in the 70-song Monk canon. It speeds up, it slows down, it shifts course abruptly – the musicians must have strained a few muscles trying to keep up with what was going on in Monk’s head. The rhythmic construction was so challenging that it took the band members 25 takes to get what they needed – and even then they never recorded it to Monk’s satisfaction. What we hear on the album is a patchwork spliced together from the various takes. It’s a gorgeously flawed work – while it may have been difficult to create, it is easy to listen to.
By Steve Greenlee.
Celesta, Piano – Thelonious Monk (Celeste on tracks: 3)
Alto Saxofon- Ernie Henry (tracks: 1 to 3)
Tenor Saxofono- Sonny Rollins (tracks: 1 to 3, 5)
Timpani- Max Roach (tracks: 5)
Trumpet- Clark Terry (tracks: 5)
Bass- Oscar Pettiford (tracks: 1 to 3) , Paul Chambers (3) (tracks: 5)
Drums- Max Roach (tracks: 1 to 3, 5)
A1. Brilliant Corners
A2. Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are
B1. Pannonica
B2. I Surrender, Dear
B3. Bemsha Swing

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