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Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane.

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane. At Carnegie Hall. Blue Note 35173, 2005.

The story behind this release is almost as wonderful as the music. In 1957, John Coltrane's drug use had become such a problem that he was fired by Miles Davis. He spent much of that year in Thelonious Monk's combo, trying (without much early success) to learn Monk's notoriously strange and difficult compositions and working out his various personal demons onstage at the Five Spot, where Monk had an ongoing engagement. The fact that none of these performances was ever recorded has been a matter of garment-rending regret in the jazz community ever since. However, in November of that year the Thelonious Monk Quartet (which included bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Shadow Wilson) recorded two half-hour sets as part of an all-star benefit concert at Carnegie Hall that also featured Chet Baker, Zoot Sims, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles, among others. These concerts actually were recorded, by Voice of America--but as luck would have it, the tapes were lost. Almost fifty years later, a supervisor in the recording lab at the Library of Congress was going through some old tapes that were slated for digitization, when he noticed a set of ten-inch acetate tapes in boxes labeled simply "Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957." Handwritten on one of the boxes was the legend "T. Monk." This was exciting enough, but the real import of his find did not sink in until Appelbaum began listening and recognized Coltrane's unique saxophone sound. What Appelbaum had found was not just a previously unknown Monk recording, but the holy grail of Monk recordings--beautifully recorded and in pristine condition.

This disc has been received rapturously by the jazz world, and rightly so. Not only is the sound quality of these tapes remarkably high, but the performances sparkle as well. Coltrane's tone is warmer and less vinegary than usual, and his solos on "Bye-Ya" and the wonderfully knotty "Evidence" are especially fine. Monk sounds a bit subdued, but not unpleasantly so, and the rhythm section of Wilson and Abdul-Malik gives the two soloists a strong but fluid foundation with which to work. It is unfortunate that the bass wasn't miked a bit more closely, and even more unfortunate that the final version of "Epistrophy" is incomplete. But there is no question that this disc should find a home in every jazz collection.
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Title Annotation:BRIEFLY NOTED; At Carnegie Hall
Author:Anderson, Rick
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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