Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Thelonius Monk : The London Collection Vol. 1

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  • Published on Thursday, 28 November 2013 14:17
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Trinkle Tinkle - 7.26
Crepuscule With Nellie - 2.20
Darn That Dream - 5.45
Little Rootie Tootie - 3.42
Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland - 3.12
Nice Work If You Can Get It - 5.10
My Melancholy Baby - 5.12
Jackieing - 3.25
Loverman - 7.13
Blue Sphere - 2.22

“Thelonious Monk works so exclusively with the basic materials of jazz that, in the best moments, his playing almost becomes a working definition of that music. Monk’s pianistic strength lies not in complex executive feats but in a sensitive, vividly incisive deployment of those basics; time, accent, metre, space”. Max Harrison’s quotation comes from his essay on Monk in ‘Jazz On Record’ (Hanover Books), one of the most perceptive pieces of criticism written about this unique pianist-composer. Any record of Monk is worthy of the closest study but the six-hour session which took place in the Chappell Studios in London in November 1971 produced some of the most stimulating music Thelonious has ever played. This session produced the last commercial records ever made by Monk. Illness plagued Monk in his later years and when pianist Henri Renaud went to New York at the end of 1977 in order to produce an album of the remaining bebop piano players (Duke Jordan, Sadik Hakim etc.) he learned that Thelonious had been lying, semi-paralyzed, at home for some time. The music papers seemed not to have reported this distressing fact but being ignored by the news media was unfortunately, nothing new as far as Thelonious Sphere Monk was concerned. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on October 10, 1917 Monk was, quite simply, one of the three or four men who altered the course of jazz at the beginning of the nineteen-forties. Ill health had often kept him out of the limelight for lengthy periods but he invariably made up for these absences whenever he returned to the recording studios and an extensive collection of his albums must form an essential part of any jazz library. His style of playing was inextricably linked with his abilities as a composer and each time he sat at the keyboard he indulged in the art of re-composition. He tended to work within familiar themes, standard tunes such as Just a Gigolo, Sweet and lovely etc. as well as choices from his own richly endowed portfolio of originals, but his approach each time was fresh and unhackneyed. If he had any cliches or familiar phrases then at least they have the virtue of being wholly his own for he appears to have erupted onto the jazz scene completed and new, a true original of his own time. Branded “difficult to understand” by those who would not listen, his music has always struck me as the most ordered, logical and disciplined of all his contemporaries. Whereas Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie upset the jazz world with their flashing, pyrotechnical displays of multi-noted runs, tied only to the thematec material by its harmonic relationship, Monk worked assiduously at the almost forgotten art of rhythmic variations on the chosen tunes. In this respect his music forged a direct link with the past, with that enormously powerful and important pianist-composer, Jelly Roll Morton. But this fact escaped many people because, as Max Harrison pointed out “people who listened to Monk had never heard Jelly Roll Morton, and people who knew of Morton’s use of motivic development wished to hear nothing of Monk”. Ignorance and bias allowed the music of the two vitally important jazzmen to co-exist, side by side, without anyone drawing attention to Thelonious’s importance in the lineage of jazz tradition. Reasonably active throughout much of the ‘sixties as leader of a quartet containing tenor saxist Charlie Rouse, Monk went on an extended tour with an aptly named unit the “Giants Of Jazz” in September 1971. (His colleagues Dizzy Gillespie, Kal Winding, Sonny Stitt, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey; by common consent there was no leader although it was Dizzy who made the announcements). The tour took in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Israel and just about every European country, east and west, culminating in two concerts at London’s New Victoria Theatre on November 14, 1971 where Atlantic taped the sextet for issue as a two-LP set. The following night producer Alan Bates took the rhythm section into a London studio to make a selection of trio and solo performances. Before the date Alan rang me and asked if I had any ideas about what material he should suggest Monk recorded. I said I thought it would be intriguing if he could be cajoled into doing a James P. Johnson piece, or possibly Jimmy Yancey’s ‘At The Window’. In the event Monk did it mainly his way but fortunately some of Alan’s ideas eventually bore fruit. This album collects together ten solo performances and includes the previously unreleased ‘Loverman’ and ‘Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland’. The opening ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ is take three, the first take to be made after Monk’s wife, Nellie, had cut her husband’s overlong fingernails! (Prior to this the men in the control room had failed to trace a mysterious tapping sound on the playbacks). Mrs. Monk is saluted on the short ‘Crepuscule With Nellie’, a delightful tune first recorded at a Riverside recording date in June, 1957. The brooding, carefully played ‘Darn That Dream’ was first placed on disc by Thelonious the previous year (April, 1956 to be exact) while the closing ‘Little Rootie Tootie’ goes back to a Prestige session of October, 1952 when Monk was accompanied by Art Blakey at the drums and a Brooklyn policeman, Gary Mapp, on a bass. Whereas ‘Crepuscule’ was a tribute to Mrs. Monk, Little Rootie Tootie was the nickname given to Thelonious Monk Jr., the son who took up drums and at one time played with his father’s group. ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ is a Gershwin tune, but one which has a construction almost guaranteed to appeal to Monk. The song copy as published shows it to have a 34-bar chorus (8-8-8-10) but Monk manages to truncate that two-bar tag at the end into one bar and then, as if to make amends he completes the performance with a “cliff-hanger” coda. He first recorded ‘Nice Work’ for Blue Note back in 1947 and even in those days he was working with Art Blakey. ‘My Melancholy Baby’ gets the same kind of treatment as ‘Darn That Dream’, a very intense and introspective reading of the tune. I can trace no other Monk recording of this tune since his participation on a June, 1950 Charlie Parker date when his colleagues included Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy Rich. It is possible that he has seldom played the tune in more recent years. Another member of the family, this time a niece, is saluted with Jackie-ing which seems to have been written originally for a June, 1959 Riverside session by a quintet containing Thad Jones. The final ‘Blue Sphere’ was a completely spontaneous and happy blues. Listening to it again, many years after the event, I think that perhaps I may, unwittingly, have got some of my wish with regard to a projected programme. The middle section has a “stride” left hand like James P. Johnson and that final chorus, slowed down and a little less forcible, would do credit to Jimmy Yancey. Alun Morgan Recorded at Chappell Studios, London on November 15, 1971 Musicians:
Thelonious Monk (Piano) Song Listing:
Trinkle Tinkle 7.26, Crepuscule with Nellie 2.20, Darn That Dream 5.45, Little Rootie Tootie 3.42, Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland 3.12, Nice Work If You Can Get It 5.10, My Melancholy Baby 5.12, Jackieing 3.25, Loverman 7.13, Blue Sphere 2.22.

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