CD Review of Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (vinyl edition) by Thelonious Monk
Recommended if you like
Miles Davis, Charlie Parker,
Charles Mingus
Thelonious Monk:
Thelonious Monk with
John Coltrane (vinyl edition)

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


hen the small Jazzland label first issued Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane back in 1961, these recordings were already old news. But put in context, their value obviously had not been immediately recognized when they were first documented in ’57. Monk may have been a big name in jazz for years, but Trane had yet to earn the accolades that would eventually inspire a church in San Francisco to be built in his name. Four years later, Trane was a star, having made enough of a name for himself with the Atlantic albums Giant Steps and My Favorite Things, in ’59 and ’60 respectively, to leave Miles Davis and start blazing headier and more spiritual trails with his bold approach to the tenor saxophone.

Who could blame Jazzland for wanting to capitalize on Trane’s growing stature? Rock n’ roll was slowly taking over the popular music scene, and would soon assert its dominance more forcefully than ever with the impending British Invasion. It was a no-brainer for a small independent label, and a bonus for jazz heads.

Even though his brief union with Monk and the pianist/composer’s rhythm section (bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer “Shadow” Wilson) yielded only three studio cuts (the pair’s ’57 engagement at New York’s Five Spot Café, released for the first time only two short years ago on Blue Note, is the only other surviving document of this quartet), the thrill of hearing the two playing alongside each other on Monk’s classics “Ruby My Dear,” “Trinkle Tinkle,” and “Nutty” is not diminished in any way by the fact that three other unrelated tracks (two, “Off Minor” and “Epistrophy,” are big band arrangements in which Trane participates in the ensemble, and the last, “Functional,” is Monk all by his lonesome) fill out the album. It’s short and scattershot, but goes down smooth as fine whiskey all the way through.

Smoother still is the warmth of the vinyl reissue that Concord has made available through its Collectors Corner website. Granted, at $14.98 it’s priced about $5 more than what one would expect for a standard-weight single LP packaged in an over-exposed facsimile of the original cover, with no remastering or extra inserts, bonus points go to the preservationist spirit that allowed the original liner notes to remain intact on the back cover, not to mention the plain orange and black Jazzland labels. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine how remastering could help the fidelity of “Epistrophy,” which sounds as though the master tape had deteriorated. What’s more, the vinyl plays back with no fuss. It may be a bare-bones package by today’s standards (which, if you’ve taken a look at recent reissues and new vinyl releases lately, are at an all-time high), but it still gets the music across the way we like it – with character.

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