Thelonious Monk: With John Coltrane

The saxophonist and pianist show striking integration with bass and drums in vinyl reissue of the only three tracks they recorded together


Craft Recordings have produced an exact replica of Monk and Trane’s 1957 album which features the only three tracks in captivity of the original quartet featuring Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. Other records have been discovered over the years, but this is the only album to feature Ware.

For various complicated contractual reasons Monk and Trane with their first line-up were never recorded apart from this late-issued disc. Recorded at night in 1958 these three tracks were kept on the shelf at Riverside Records until 1961 when the quartet had broken up and could finally be released.

I might say this is one of the great jazz records of the 20th century. The four musicians are on top form on Ruby, My Dear and Trinkle, Tinkle, which opens the LP. Ware’s importance cannot be overstated – he had the same interest in rhythmic displacement and the unusual harmonic sequence as Monk. Ware’s solo on Trinkle, Tinkle demonstrates his easy-swinging, roving lines to good effect.

However, it was the full integration of Monk, Coltrane, Ware and Wilson that made this group so special. There is truly inspired interplay between Monk and Coltrane on these three selections. Both are at the very top of their inventive best. Coltrane’s long lines on Nutty contrast neatly with Monk’s sub-divisions of his own theme. It’s a pity this magical quartet wasn’t recorded at the Five Spot on their six-month gig there.

The three quartet tracks are joined by two alternate takes from Monk’s Music, a 1957 seven-piece album that was one of Monk’s best of the time. Coltrane is featured to good effect on Epistrophy, and Coleman Hawkins takes solo honours on Off Minor. The album ends with a fascinating nine-and-a-half-minute Functional, a Monk piano solo which was an alternate take from one of his earlier solo piano albums. High-quality, 180-gram vinyl, an anti-static inner sleeve and facsimile cover add to the attractiveness of this reissue.

(1) Ruby, My Dear; Trinkle, Tinkle; (2) Off Minor; (1) Nutty; (2) Epistrophy; (3) Functional (37.32)
(1) Coltrane (ts); Monk (p); Wilbur Ware (b); Shadow Wilson (d). NYC, 1958.
(2) Coleman Hawkins, Coltrane (ts); Gigi Gryce (as); Ray Copeland (t); Monk (p); Wilbur Ware (b); Art Blakey (d). NYC, 1957.
(3) Thelonious Monk (p). NYC, 1956.
Jazzland CR 00611