Reviews

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane

This past January, Library of Congress jazz specialist Larry Appelbaum stumbled onto the sole full-length professional recording of a November 1957 collaboration between bebop's high priest Thelonious Monk and tenor saxophone giant John Coltrane. The occasion was a Carnegie Hall concert documented for a Voice of America radio broadcast. The quartet, which included drummer Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, was in the midst of a four-month high-profile residency at the Five Spot nightclub. There Coltrane approached Monk's technically challenging music tentatively at first, but the quartet soon coalesced into an inspired, remarkably creative jazz group. The music crackles with vitality: 'Trane easily navigates Monk's quirky melodies and pours out long, loose streams of improvised notes (just one example: "Bye-Ya"), while Monk drops bent colorizations and turns in his own, oddly angular solos. Even the oft-played "Blue Monk" -- here gritty, beautifully bluesy, rambunctious, and threatening to veer off in strange directions -- sounds vital, practically reborn. Call it the jazz discovery of the decade.

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Philip Booth