|Thelonious Monk - Monk 'Round the World|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 03 August 2004|
Even if the very thought of straight jazz scares you a little, there’s still no danger in recommending that you check out the music of Thelonious Monk – immediately. Sure, he was a complicated and deep guy, and his compositions are layered with complexities. But paradoxically, he also had a way of creating memorable – even hummable – melodies. This disc, which samples some of his performances in various places throughout the globe, also acts as a kind of “best of” recording, featuring a few of his most familiar creations. It’s a fine place for Monk newbies to start.
Although his cast of bandmates changes slightly from location to location, Monk’s inventive piano work, as well as Charlie Rouse’s high quality tenor saxophone playing, are constants throughout. Rouse perfectly compliments Monk’s ensemble pieces by keeping his parts sweet and simple. He never wails or gets out of control. Even though Monk is an animated player, he also rarely strays from the natural structure of his songs.
It’s difficult to describe Monk’s compositions in mere words alone, since even to this day, there is still isn’t anything else quite like them. The compiled set here opens with “Epistrophy,” which is about as complicated to the ears as its title is to the mind and eye. Recorded at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1963, it features a lot of tight playing on quite the brainy tune. “Blue Monk,” which follows, is taken from a show in Paris. This one’s a little easier to grasp than its predecessor is, mainly because of its likeably swinging melody. Next up is “Ruby My Dear,” which is a nicely woozy ballad, also drawn from the show in Paris. Smack dab in the middle of the disc is this CD’s best track: titled “Rhythm A Ning,” one can clearly sense how Monk’s group is having plenty of fun with its stop-and-start rhythm. This recording of it features a playful call-and-response-like interaction among the quartet of musicians, in this case sporting John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop at the drums. It was recorded in Copenhagen. While “Hackensack,” the next track, reprises the swinging sound of “Blue Monk,” “Bemsha Swing” is “swing” in name only. Recorded in Stockholm, there is a sort of mysteriousness saturating this one. It has an exotic, foreign quality to it. The disc closes with a brief closing return to the theme of “Epistrophy.”
As an added bonus, this package also includes a three-song performance DVD from the Marquee Club in London. On it, Monk, along with Rouse on tenor sax, Larry Gates on bass and Ben Riley on drums, are captured in stark black-and-white film during a show in 1965. It has a couple of performances not included on the audio portion, which are “Criss Cross” and “Nutty.” There aren’t any bells and whistles added to the way this set was filmed, but there’s still an undeniable pleasure in just watching how Monk and his group played together with such skill and dignity.
Monk ‘Round The World is a superior representation of what Thelonious Monk did best, whether you happen to suffer from modern jazz phobia or not.