Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Monk & Trane at Carnegie Hall
Being a devotee of classic jazz, it's not often that I find myself on the edge of my seat with anticipation of a new release. Such momentous events as the the coming to light of a rarity like this & Trane set doesn't happen every day - come to think of it, I still remember getting fired up when the Five Spot recordings surfaced. Though the music on from the Five Spot recordings was electrifying, the fidelity of the recordings themselves left a bit to be desired. No so with The Thelonious Monk Quartet at Carnegie Hall CD - this is the next best thing to studio quality (bass is a little weak, and drums a bit loud and boomy at times - these being rather realistic characteristics of the Hall though).

"Early Show"
Whatever the case, the music recorded that night in '57 is as magical today as it was then. Monk's Mood here is played here with an incredible poignancy: Thelonious' solo intro chorus shows the pianist at the height of his powers, manipulating time and harmony brilliantly. Trane comes in with his statement of the melody after a breathtaking duet of cascading, fluid, intertwining lines exchanged with Monk - then the two proceed through staggeringly beautiful interpretation of the melody. Time is elastic, yet the pulse remains firmly implied as Monk & Trane (and ) continue to reiterate the melody, embellishing it with ever-more dazzling interplays of runs with each successive chorus. Always one of my favorite Monk tunes, this version stands out amongst recordings I've heard - Monk & Trane are truly playing as one here, completely inside the tune, inside the moment, inside each other's ideas. This piece alone is worth the price of admission: One of the most beautiful pieces of music one could ever hope to hear.

This of course, is just the beginning. After the transcendent, cathartic, timeless moments of Monk's Mood, the quartet launches into Evidence. After a few choruses, Trane is up to speed, "sheets of sound" unfurling effortlessly, pushing the progression ahead with a gloriously relentless inevitability. A deceptively simple (or seemingly standard) A section of the progression is transformed by Coltrane into stunning, brilliant architecture of arpeggios and dizzying runs. Monk delivers a what can only be described as a perfectly Monkish solo: an idiom unto himself, he fully exploits his singular vocabulary here. Trane's subtle (almost tentative?) return with the melody finds Monk setting up a great, funky offbeat accompaniment - comping in between the accents of the melody, maximizing the angularity and propulsive nature of the line.

We're treated to some more unaccompanied Monk for the first chorus of Crepuscle With Nellie (wouldn't want it any other way). Coltrane enters with the rhythm section, languidly stating the melody in unison with Monk, Thelonious interjecting the occasional, ideally timed cluster comps that leap up from the mix, jagged accents in the otherwise still soundscape of the piece.

Nutty abruptly changes the mood - making his presence known with some well-placed accents (a la famous "bombs") - and Trane barging in for a few searing choruses leading up to Monk's spartan solo, lines of fragile, delicate beauty that never stray far from the melody. The theme reemerges effortlessly and the quartet wraps up this succinct (and comparatively "sane") version of Nutty before the closing number of the "Early Show."

& set up a sizzling polyrhythmic groove against the melody of Epistrophy, as Monk & Trane state the melody together. This tune seems tailor-made for Trane - the progression ideally suited for his harmonic explorations and spiraling patterns. Thelonious again juxtaposes the roiling density of Trane's closing solo statements with a sparse entrance. Monk takes a brief solo punctuated with a few deftly placed careening runs, before the group cooks their way through the closing melody.

"Late Show"
...coming soon...

The Thelonious Monk Quartet at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note 0946)
Carnegie Hall, NYC
November 29, 1957

Go - Dexter Gordon

Go - Dexter Gordon
Right from and ' entrance over descending bass line on Cheese Cake, this album lives up to its name, and goes. Dexter wades right into his solo with a self-assured and confidence that leaves no question that this is going to be smokin set. His tone is expansive and majestic throughout - follows with a brief, terse and somewhat restrained post-boppish, post- solo before comes sailing back in for a few choruses, keeping the energy of the piece intact. It's easy to hear from the broad, rich tone plays with why is considered one of influences - check out the higher register wails works in.

The ballad that follows - I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry - again seems reminiscent of . Like Soul Eyes, (perhaps somewhat inexplicably for myself - and myself alone) it vividly conjures up the image/sensation of a late night cab ride in NYC - say, speeding uptown on Lexington in the pouring rain on one of those first fall nights, when that first chill cuts through the damp air, yet the insular environs of that cab's back seat hold the cold at bay, and the city streams by serenely in a watery blur of bending light and shadow... Such obtuse imagery and metaphor aside, rich tone overflows from this tune, drawing the listener in, immersing you in a curious ennui...

The more rollicking Second Balcony Jump changes the pace to more of a straight-up, joyous blowing session. nimbly timekeeping keeps a slightly loose pulse - creating an infectious swing on this tune. draws us into the groove further with the latin intro on Love For Sale. Dexter's statement of the melody - and his soaring, caterwauling, singing solo that follow conspire to make this perhaps my favorite recording of this piece. sounds at once majestic and sarcastic: injecting wry turns of phrase into lines that evoke a sense of grandeur that transcends the tune itself. His mariachi-esque entrance after solo soon gives way to brilliant ascending arpeggios nearly spanning the range of the horn, replete with fat, bulbous low register honks (again bringing to mind playing of this period) to keening, almost vocal upper-register wails.

Where Are You brings me back to those autumnal, rain-slicked city streets, with Dexter again conjuring a sense of a kind of regal loneliness - that incomparable realization of aloneness that the city can evoke at times...

Announcing its arrival with a quote from ' classic If I Were A Bell, Three In The Morning is another mid tempo number that shines on: Asserting his cool, confident mastery of the instrument and the idiom. As described Dexter's style of dress - "cleaner than a broke-dick dog" - this tune (an otherwise typical, forgettable hard-bop vehicle) is transformed at Gordon's hands into something with much more class - again, transcendent. One only need listen to Clarke's perfectly adroit and idiomatic solo in contrast to Gordon's playing, and Dexter's greatness is evident. Once more, Gordon enters after Sonny's solo with a tongue-in-cheek quote from Take Me Out To The Ballgame - almost trivializing Clarke's solo. Not to undermine Sonny - he's one of my favorite pianists of this period and style - just that the clarity of Dexter's inspiration on this date is in such a league of its own, rather overshadowing the playing of the rest of the band. From the perspective of being "Dexter's band," however, their performance is stellar all around. Completely supportive as a rhythm section, they lay down an infallible groove throughout, and deliver a few more modest solos that set off Gordon's work as all the more dazzling - solos that in other contexts that in their own right are nothing to be scoffed at.

What's important here, is that Go! is clearly a Dexter Gordon album - a wonderful documentation of a man playing at the height of his powers. Go! is definitely one that should be on the short list for any fan of hard-bop, 60s jazz - or for that matter, anybody with ears.

Go! (Blue Note - BLP 4112)
Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
August 27, 1962

Back At The Chicken Shack - Jimmy Smith

Back At The Chicken Shack - Jimmy Smith
Just in case this album's name doesn't tip you off, Back At The Chicken Shack is some down-home, funky music. The title track opens with groovin on a mid tempo blues riff, taken at a perfect tempo to extract every last once of funk from the tune. follows Smith's understated solo with one of his own, keeping the vibe of this piece subdued, yet building slowly into sax solo. Stanley - who really shines on this record - maintains the slow, simmering groove without overdoing it. Chicken Shack epitomizes the funky, cool blues - and sets the stage for the rest of the record.

When I Grow Too Old To Dream begins in a similar vein, with Smith laying down a loping half-time bass line beneath Turrentine's comfortably laid-back statement of the melody. As Turrentine eases into his solo, we catch a few glimpses of a more expansive sound, as he builds through one bluesy chorus after another, opening up the sound of the groove. Smith's comping echoes the occasional soaring, searing held notes Turrentine works into at points, punctuating and shaping his solo. Jimmy's solos reel things back in a bit to a tighter groove, still steeped in down home blues. Turrentine returns for another taste after Smith's solo, again gradually pushing towards some more wailing, plaintive cries. Donald Bailey keeps pace with all of this without being in the least bit intrusive - moving between an easygoing swing and funkier back beats without missing a beat.

The pace picks up a few more notches, as Minor Chant begins simmering along. Turrentine's breathy first notes soon give way to more of the expansive tones we were teased with on Too Old To Dream - combined with Smith's percolating accompaniment beneath his solo, Chant is cookin along nicely by the time Stanley wraps his solo. Smith comes in right on it (he and Bailey tightening up the groove a bit again here) - venturing more into his faster, denser lines as his solo progresses. Smith manages to sustain a great ahead of the beat sense through this solo with his walking bass line sitting just ahead of Bailey's pulse.

Messy Bessie starts off similarly to Too Old To Dream - a down, halftime midtempo groove that opens up in to a relaxed swing with Turrentine's solo. Stanley's sounding very limbered up and fluid at this point - his solo marked by faster runs, still punctuated with fat, bluesy wails at just the right times to keep things interesting. Burrell jumps in afterwards with a well-constructed solo that progresses from sparing, blues-tinged phrases to some smokin lines and back again. Smith follows up with more of the same, and then some. Jimmy had a great knack for exploiting his instrument's character: Sitting on a single note through a whole chorus or more - either as a held note, or brilliantly placed rhythmic accents. Not to mention his use of chord-melody phrases - in the bluest thirds or sixths intervals you could hope to find for any given moment.

While generally showing a more laid-back side of his playing, Chicken Shack has all the classic elements of Smith's style - everything needed for a comprehensive course of study from Organist 101 up through a Phd. After all, he is humbly referred to on the LP's cover as "The Incredible Jimmy Smith" for a reason... If you're not convinced just listen to any jazz organist since (for that matter, take a listen to the prog-rock rambling of musicians as far afield as ELP - maybe Keith Emerson wasn't quite the innovator some thought...)

In many ways (at least for me), it's really Turrentine that makes this record - his playing acts as a perfect foil for Smith, playing off Jimmy's more in-the-pocket funk with a broader, bluesier wail - this interplay's what keeps me coming Back to The Chicken Shack, as it were. Stanley's playing on this album really captures the essence of the genre, and seems the most inspired playing in the session - what makes this more than just another hard-bop organ trio/quartet-type date, and a classic.

Back At The Chicken Shack (Blue Note BLP 4117)
Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
April 25, 1960