Thelonious Monk: Monk Big Band And Quartet In Concert

In 1959 and again here in 1963 Hall Overton produced big-band arrangements that showed acute understanding of Monk's angular writing style

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This was Monk’s second live orchestra recording in New York City. The first was for Riverside in 1959 and for this later occasion he brought back Phil Woods, Eddie Bert and Charlie Rouse along with several impressive new names. Monk was obviously in a good place on the night of this recording at Philharmonic Hall. His piano solos are just as quirkily original as usual, but they flow along seamlessly along with the orchestral backings. These backings are important as he once again used Hall Overton, an arranger who managed to provide angular horn ensembles that fitted Monk’s music like a glove.

I Mean You is the first track and benefits from a fine, tart solo from Thad Jones on cornet and the presence of Phil Woods, who swings tastily and seems to take easily to Monk’s jagged musical style. These two are, along with Monk, the best of the soloists. The regular tenor man, Charlie Rouse, plays vigorously on most tracks but as sleeve writer Ira Gitler points out, slips easily into his favourite clichés. Monk always liked his bass and drum solos whether in small combo or big band format and there are plenty here, tastefully executed by bassist Butch Warren and drummer Frank Dunlop.

It is a programme of mostly good old Monk warhorses receiving new arrangements and solos, but Monk did produce one new composition, the spiky Oska T. He chose chose Darkness On The Delta for his piano solo piece, but it could have been worse, such as There’s Danger In Your Eyes, Cherie, which he was known to use on occasion. This solo works well as Monk ploughs through his own unique chording patterns and manages to insert several lines from Sweet And Lovely into his reading. There is one quartet track too.

After a chunky piano introduction, the entire 10-piece band swings into Four In One, played in challenging stop time. Jones shines again with a spiralling cornet solo that maintains its own momentum as the orchestra keep to theirs. Rouse is better here. More concentrated and inventive without too many of his hinky-dinky-do runs. This long track is, in fact, the highlight of the concert. Monk is also on top form in his solo.

Talking of long tracks, this album runs for over an hour, most unusual for vinyl in 1964. Excellent sound from both the original Columbia engineers and this Speaker’s Corner analogue remastering. If you don’t already have it, grab this version.

Discography
I Mean You, Evidence; Darkness On The Delta; Oska T; Played Twice; Four In One; Epistrophy (60.02)
Thad Jones (c); Nick Travis (t); Charlie Rouse (ts); Steve Lacy (ss); Phil Woods (as, cl); Gene Allen (bar, bcl, cl); Eddie Bert (tb); Monk (p); Butch Warren (b); Frank Dunlop (d). Philharmonic Hall, NYC, 1963.
Columbia CS 8964 / Speaker’s Corner Records