Leader Blues

Monday, September 26, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Monk-Coltrane masterpiece

The most important jazz CD of the year — no, make that of the decade, or even of the century, for that matter — was recorded al-most 50 years ago but was just recently discovered in the vaults at the Library of Congress.

The CD is “Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall” (Blue Note/ Thelonious Records), who performed together for just a few months in 1957, but the music they created ranks with the best in jazz : Monk and Coltrane are as important as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and a handful of other jazz greats.

Monk pushed Coltrane to new creative heights: The last phase of Coltrane’s career, which lasted only another decade, was a logical outcome of his brief association with Monk.
The pair pulled all their musical ideas together — Monk the brilliant teacher, Coltrane the serious student who would surpass his master — crafting a sound that was as intense and as beautiful as anything in modern music.

What extraordinary music they made together, and expertly recorded, too.
From the first note you can hear Monk and Coltrane pour their hearts out, their music is as recognizable and original as an Ellington composition or as a Charlie Parker solo.
The Carnegie Hall concert — with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums — contains some of the most amazing music of the 20th Century.

Recorded in November 1957 for the Voice of America, this music by two giants of jazz was lost for more than 40 years before it was found in the vaults at the Library of Congress last February. What we get is a piece of musical history as important as the best jazz you’ve ever heard.
The concert, a benefit for a Harlem Community Center, also included performances by Billie Holiday (who did not want to be recorded), Dizzie Gillespie, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker and Zoot Sims, who did two shows that night.

You could get in for as little as $2, which comes out to about a quarter per performer, half that if you stuck around for free for the second show. Talk about a bargain and hearing a piece of history.
The CD includes performances from both the early and late shows.

The duo played mostly Monk’s now-famous compositions, starting off with “Monk’s Mood” and ending both shows with “Epistro-phy” (the second version is incomplete). This is the kind of music you can’t get enough of: Two geniuses of jazz playing at their peak.

No fewer than seven writers sing the praises of this extraordinary CD in the liner notes, including Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones, who connects modern jazz to the nascent civil rights movement), Ira Gitler (who, like Baraka, had heard Coltrane and Monk play at the Half Note club the summer before the Carnegie Hall concert), Stanley Crouch (who points out that Monk and Coltrane were both from North Carolina, which may have strengthened their musical bond), Ashley Kahn (the author of a book on Coltrane and Miles Davis, who would soon record “Kind of Blue” together), as well as Monk biographer Robin G. Kelley and Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter and, not least, Larry Applebaum, recording lab supervisor at the Library of Congress who discovered the tapes marked “Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957,” and, digging further, found a box labeled “T.Monk.” For that, he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, no less.

Monk and Coltrane didn’t record much else together. There’s a mono recording of them at the Five Spot from that historic summer of 1957 called “Live at the Five Spot: Discovery” (Blue Note).
A remastered version of that CD at the correct speed is included in Monk’s “Complete Blue Note Recordings,” an essential part of any jazz collection.

You can also hear them on “Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane” (Jazzland), which in-cludes Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums, as well as two numbers with Coleman Hawkins on tenor and Gigi Gryce on alto and Ray Copeland on trumpet. Another essential jazz record.

“Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall” is a must for those who love jazz and the surprises it offers, and even if you own just a couple of jazz records, you must get this release.