Thelonious Monk: The Classic Quartet

Remastered recording captures Monk's 1963 performance for Japanese TV with Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren and Frankie Dunlop

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This album is the sound recording of a television show in Tokyo featuring Monk and his quartet during their celebrated 1963 tour of Japan. Monk is clearly enjoying himself. His career was on a high – he’d recently signed with the prestigious Columbia label and had just recorded two of his greatest albums, Monk’s Dream and Criss Cross.

His so-called classic quartet comprised Charlie Rouse (formerly with Tadd Dameron, Gillespie, Ellington and Basie) on tenor sax. Rouse was 39. He’d joined the quartet in 1959 and remained with Monk until 1970. Drummer Frankie Dunlop aged 34 (Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Maynard Ferguson) joined in 1961. The youngest member, 23-year-old bassist Butch Warren, had taken over from John Ore only the month before. As one of Blue Note’s house players, Warren had recorded with Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley among others. Monk himself was 46.

The album’s five numbers are Monk classics – four originals and one of Monk’s favourite standards, Just A Gigolo, adapted and restructured in his unique way on solo piano. The album begins with an expanded version of Epistrophy – Monk usually used it as a brief set-opener or closing theme. It’s followed by the creative Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are which he recorded in 1957 on Brilliant Corners and retitled as Bolivar Blues on Monk’s Dream.

Evidence, recorded by him in 1948, is loosely based on Just You, Just Me. Monk coined the title by contracting this to “just us” which sounds like justice (think American parlance) which in his mind is not far from Evidence. It’s a cryptic route for devising a song title and maybe a touch eccentric but somehow a fitting example of Monk’s mindset. The album closes with an alluring slowed-down rendering of Blue Monk, which he first recorded in 1954.

The recording has been released by various labels at various times but here it’s been remastered to a high standard. Sound quality is very good with bass and drums more prominent than is typical of the time. The music still sounds crisp and fresh today.

Discography
Epistrophy; Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are; Evidence; Just A Gigolo; Blue Monk (38.08)
Monk (p); Charlie Rouse (ts); Butch Warren (b); Frankie Dunlop (d). Tokyo, 23 May 1963.
Candid Records CCD35512