Thelonius Monk and his big band hit new york in ’64

2nd July 2016

Title: Big Band and Quartet In Concert

Label: Speakers Corner

Released in 1964 on the Columbia label, this LP sees the great man at the very top of his game. In fact, it is surely one of the jazz man’s greatest recordings. Is that partly down to the fact that this LP is set within a live setting and Monk is allowed to reach out and respond to his audience? The band performed at the Philharmonic Hall in New York, the first time that the crew had appeared there in five years. At that time, as George T. Simon from the New York Herald Tribune observed, “…the sound emphasis was on a brassy bottom with French horn and tuba in the ensemble. This time, clarinets and soprano saxophone were utilised along with muted brass for different texture and quality.”

This tweak in approach produced a springy, delicate and at times fragile presentation which allowed the music to be light on its feet. It is certainly highly manoeuvrable, never getting bogged down and always able to twist this way and that. Changing from solo to solo, back to the ensemble, tempo changes, you name it. The arranger, Hall Overton, has to take much of the credit here for keeping the music on its toes while giving Monk all the freedom he requires to really show his chops.

The quartet appear for a single track (Played Twice) and include Charlie Rouse on tenor, bassist Butch Warren and drummer Frank Dunlop) while, for the rest of the album, that quartet is joined by cornetist Thad Jones, trumpeter Nick Travis, Steve Lacy on soprano, altoist Phil Woods, baritonist Gene Allen and trombonist Eddie Bert.

The master is superb, giving room for as much dynamic extension as the music requires. Because of this, the fine arrangement and the solos simply soar.