TDK DVD Video
Release date: September 26, 2006
Recorded 1966, Oslo and Copenhagen
Thelonious Monk (piano)
Charlie Rouse (tenor sax)
Larry Gales (bass)
Ben Riley (drums)
Lulu's Back in Town, Blue Monk, 'Round Midnight, Lulu's Back in Town, Don't Blame Me, Epistrophy
Based on two sessions filmed for TV in Oslo (April 15th 1966) and two days later in Copenhagen, here is the quartet that finally brought a settled sound and with it success to Thelonious Monk's previously wayward genius. The settings are not ideal. No-one had grasped the crucial point that jazz is best performed before an audience. In Oslo, the setting appears to be a corner of an otherwise empty art gallery / museum; in Copenhagen we appear to be in an unadorned and lifeless TV studio. At the end of the Oslo set the four performers appear to have no idea what to do next and are left staring into open space; in Copenhagen there is an ending that seems to say – where is the applause? as not even a single member of the studio team seems to have the temerity to applaud. Ben Riley has the most rudimentary drum kit for the Oslo date. You can only suppose that like someone's luggage, the real kit had been lost in transit. What he has is a snare, bass drum, cymbal and primitive ride cymbal that seems not to work. During the set you can see the bass drum moving around. Thelonious Monk appears to be in the strangest of moods in both sets. When not soloing, he stops playing and stands to one side gazing abstractly in the direction of Charlie Rouse or Larry Gales, almost in a trance; when their solos finish, he seems to snap back to attention and returns to work on the piano like a man possessed. At the end of each set he will not look at the other players, seemingly unable to acknowledge even that they are there. This is not so much like the "Big Bear" dancing as much as a man on the edge of a crisis. And yet, despite all these problems, the music and the performance is superb.
It is very revealing to see close up Thelonious Monk's completely original take on piano. Hampered by an amount of bling on his fingers that would shock the most upfront rapper, he breaks just about every rule of formal piano technique, those large hands alternately pounding and then caressing the keys, breaking off for long moments of contemplation before returning with a new decisive stab at a note combination that is at one and the same time outrageous and yet just right. Like all great sportsmen who compared to mere mortals seem to have so much time on the ball, Thelonious Monk makes space and time within his music. He is more an abstract painter in sound than a player of tunes on a piano. And, of course, in the whole pantheon of jazz it is abundantly clear that he is that rarest of things, a true genius.
The post production work on the video is very good. Though in monochrome, the image quality is excellent, as is the sound quality. In seeing close-ups of Thelonious Monk's piano playing or Charlie Rouse's tenor sax playing, there is the suspicion that very modern image enhancement and cropping techniques have been used but the effect is very good, you really can see every bit of technique.
The five tunes, which include a version of "Lulu's Back In Town" at both venues, are all fully representative of the Thelonious Monk repetoire at the time. There are no real surprises in the choice of material but everything to be surprised about in its realization.
The TDK Jazz Icons series features full-length concerts and studio performances of great jazz performers filmed in Europe between 1957 and 1978. Many of the concerts have not been previously released. Others in the series include: Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Chet Baker.
Star Rating ****
Related reviews: Thelonious Monk "Brilliant Corners" Thelonious Monk"Live At The It Club" Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane "At Carnegie Hall"
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