In 1951, pianist and composer Thelonious Monk was pinched in a bogus arrest that resulted in him losing his Cabaret Card, necessary for performing in New York City clubs. While he scrambled for out of town gigs, Riverside Records stepped up to record Monk in a wide ranging series of contexts, resulting in some of the finest records of his career. While all of the original albums are (I assume) still in print, and a fifteen CD boxed set is floating around for those who need to have it all, this two CD set makes for a very accessible starting point for the neophyte Monk fan. Cherry picking some of the most well know recordings from the artists 1952-1960 tenure with the label, Monk is heard playing in solo, trio, small group and large ensemble formats. While Monk was primarily known as a composer, there are two very interesting standard interpretations on this collection, Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and the evergreen “Tea For Two.” Monk’s percussive piano playing breathes new life into these songs and makes a strong case for his instrumental prowess. Some of Monk’s finest small band writing and recording is featured as well with soloists like John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins contributing to an extraordinary rendition of the Monk original “Well You Needn’t.” Sonny Rollins was among the legendary musicians assembled to try and record one of Monk’s most difficult compositions, “Brilliant Corners,” a song so daunting that one complete take was never completed – the finished take was cobbled together from all the attempts. Thelonious Monk would have his picture on the cover of Time Magazine during his fine run at Columbia Records, but the seeds of that success were planted here, where the maestro, abetted by some of jazz’s finest talent, created enduring classics. This is a fine way for someone to dip their toe into the deep waters of Monk’s music, and once they hear it, they will undoubtedly be back for more. The Definitive Thelonious Monk On Prestige and Riverside - amazon.com
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