BBC Music Magazine
From the archives
Geoffrey Smith on a newly rediscovered, joyous Thelonius Monk set, recorded live in Copenhagen
Sometimes it can seem that jazz is competing with its own back catalogue. Contemporary players have to contend for market share with the music’s legacy, great recordings by giants of the past. But ideally, past and present should be complementary, with room both for devotees who insist jazz should be the latest thing and those who value its enduring achievements – not ‘retro’, but classic, what Ezra Pound called ‘news that stays news’.
That feeling of timeless pleasure, at once immediate and perennial, is one of the delights of a newly discovered session by Thelonious Monk and his vintage quartet of 1963 on Mønk (Gearbox GB1541CD). Recorded in concert in Copenhagen, it features the master pianist with his long time right-hand man Charlie Rouse on tenor, and, for me, his best rhythm team, the infallibly driving John Ore on bass and the exuberant Frankie Dunlop on drums, who came closer than anyone to sounding as if Monk himself were at the kit.
In fact the whole band – the whole occasion – conveys that inimitably Thelonian spirit, what you might call Monk’s ‘apotheosis of the dance’. All four tunes, except for his solo ‘Body and Soul’, surge along in his favourite medium groove, energised by his trademark pokes and prods, skewed harmonies and stabbing attacks across the keyboard. It’s incredibly swinging, both in its irresistible momentum and Monk’s matchless ability to create space, not just in his wrong-footing accents, but with the harmonic surprises that seem to open up new dimensions as the piece unfolds.
Monk’s very own ‘sound of surprise’ begins with the unique character of his compositions, comprising, in Copenhagen, ‘Byeya’, ‘Nutty’ and ‘Monk’s Dream’, besides one of his favourite standards, ‘I’m Getting Sentimental Over You’. They inspire superb work by all hands, especially Monk himself, who stretches out on every solo – even, on ‘Body and Soul’, tossing off a cascading run worthy of Art Tatum. News that stays news indeed.