Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane - Live in San Francisco 
Music Disc Reviews SACD
Written by Ben Shyman   
Tuesday, 30 September 2003

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Live In San Francisco
format: SACD
label: Fantasy Jazz Records
release year: 2004
performance: 7.5
sound 8
reviewed by: Ben Shyman

A recording with Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane is rare. The two musicians almost never record together because they were on different record labels. But in the summer of 1957, Monk (piano) and Coltrane (saxophone) put together a quartet with Wilbur Ware (bass) and Shadow Wilson (drums) that played at New York’s famous Five Spot Café.

The band only stayed together for six months and those lucky enough to hear their performances described the music simply as magical. Fortunately for those of us who missed it, the band managed to recorded three tracks at Reeves Sound Studios in July 1957 and the result is often described as a milestone in jazz history and a “must have” for the collections of serious jazz listeners. Three songs on Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane represents the sole studio collaboration of these jazz giants.

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is a Hybrid Stereo SACD on Jazzland Records, distributed by Fantasy Jazz. The album includes six studio tracks, which feature the three famous quartet tracks from the band that played the Five Spot Café, as well as three alternate masters from previously released Monk sessions. While the alternate tracks are excellent in their own rightæthe final track, “Functional,” is a nine-and-a-half minute unaccompanied piano solo by Monkæthe primary reason to own this SACD is for the three quartet tracks. The quality of this disc is excellent. The recording has an exceptionally live and natural feel, as a jazz recording should, and the transfer to SACD is well done. The performances are nothing short of classic.

The first of the quartet performances is the pleasing and soulful “Ruby, My Dear.” The ballad sets the stage for the other two quartet tracks on Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, as it becomes immediately evident that Monk and Coltrane have exceptional chemistry and ability to share space with natural ease. This is a common theme throughout the quartet tracks. Monk is a master of harmony and melodic phrases and his ability to comp Coltrane’s smooth saxophone solos is just right. The sound of each instrument is clearly reproduced in the recording. The texture of Wilson’s brushes is clearly apparent and represents a testament to SACD’s ability to maximize the listening experience, even for a recording that is almost 50 years old.

“Trinkle, Tinkle,” my favorite track by the quartet, is the best representation of how beautifully Monk and Coltrane share space and accompany each other’s best musical qualities. The song even includes a great bass solo by Ware and drum fills by Wilson which add to the song’s great groove. Ware utilizes his cymbals quite frequently throughout “Trinkle, Tinkle,” all of which is comes through the mix clearly and well balanced.

With its catchy melody, it is nearly impossible not to tap your foot while listening to “Nutty.” Throughout this song, Monk’s playing perfectly complements Coltrane’s signature solos. Ware’s walking bass lines accentuate the melody and are a great addition to Monk’s work. Wilson’s rider cymbal is crisp, never become lost in the mix, as it sometimes is on other vintage jazz recordings.

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is a rare and exceptional album that deserves to be included in your SACD collection. The performance is terrific and the recording and presentation on SACD are far better than average, especially for a recording of its age.

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