Thelonious Monk, “The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection”
The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection
Celebrating the Thelonious Monk centenary should come with fireworks, streamers, and parades for one of the jazz’s most complicated mysteriosos. There is no amount of present-day acclaim that can make up for the lack of all-encompassing exaltation given to other equally-worthy jazz giants (e.g. Miles, Dizzy, Coltrane) over Monk. For now, however, a handsomely curated vinyl box set—with nicely reproduced ten-inch LP jackets, as well as a smart set of historical essays—will have to do in paying tribute to the moody king of jovial disharmony on this, his hundredth birthday.
Before the famed Columbia years, his association with the inventive tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, and wonky classics such as 1962’s Monk’s Dream—and even before the days of Riverside Records, producer Orrin Keepnews, and the weird epic that is 1957’s Brilliant Corners—the legendarily idiosyncratic pianist/composer began his career as a leader with the Prestige label.
Fresh out of the gate with his sparse trio’s recording Thelonious Monk Trio—featuring unheralded bassist Gary Mapp and innovative rhythmatists Art Blakey and Max Roach on alternating tracks—Monk began his studies in algebraic melodicism, off-kilter harmony, rude dissonance, and askew structuralism with signature, lofty compositions such as “Bye-Ya, “Trinkle, Tinkle,” and “Monk’s Dream.” These self-penned tracks, along with covers he would perform throughout his long career (e.g. the gloomy but goofy “These Foolish Things,” “Just a Gigolo”), set the tone for Monk’s mad aesthetic and often vexing vibe.
The five-disc collection gets a dose of muscularity and un-fussiness when tenor saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins comes to play on two separate volumes; but mostly it’s Monk’s show, with each title getting a dose of intricate, impenetrable theatricality—even the occasional dose of schmaltz—usually reserved for Broadway and Ethel Merman. That Monk made his choice in cover tunes (and their oblong execution) as riveting and dramatic as his own compositions shows off his prowess and dedication to never taking the easy way out.