Release date: December 17th 1956
Re-release date (Keepnews remaster): March 4th 2008
Availabilty: CD, MP3 download, iTunes
"Brilliant Corners" is at one and the same time full of the idiosyncracy that typifies so much of Thelonious Monk's music and then again simply one of the greatest jazz albums ever produced.
The band is essentially a quintet: Thelonious Monk (piano), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Ernie Henry (alto sax), Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Max Roach (percussion). On "Bemsha Swing", Paul Chambers replaces Oscar Pettfiford on bass and Clark Terry (trumpet) also joins. Thelonious Monk plays celeste on "Pannonica".
The first three tracks are Thelonious Monk compositions new to the album.
The opening title track was so difficult to play that it could not be completed even after 25 takes (as reported by Cook and Morton), the released version having to be spliced together from what had been recorded. Its many tempo changes and off kilter time signatures keep the whole piece on edge yet reduced to its elements it is essentially a blues, albeit blues with anarchic intention. Whole-tone, chromatic and Lydian modes interchange irregularly; the experimentation that launched bop back in Minton's Playhouse is alive and well and Thelonious Monk remains at its very centre.
"Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" is an outrageous blues, completely memorable and set to become a staple of Thelonious Monk's performances for years to come. The Bolivar Hotel at 230 Central Park West, New York where the "Pannonica" of the following track was living is the "Bolivar" of the title.
The third Thelonious Monk composition new to the album is "Pannonica" which has the feel of a surreal waltz. Sonny Rollins' soloing is emotionally charged and memorable. Pannonica de Koenigswarter (known as Nica) was British born, a Rothschild and a wealthy patron of bebop jazz musicians on her move to take up residence at the Stanhope Hotel in 1951, hosting jam sessions in her suite.
Sonny Clark's "Nica", Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream", Kenny Dorham's "Tonica", Kenny Drew's "Blues for Nica", Freddie Redd's "Nica Steps Out", Barry Harris's "Inca", Tommy Flanagan's "Thelonica" (in addition to Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica") are all named after her. All three of the new Thelonious Monk compositions for "Brilliant Corners" were written on the piano that Nica had installed in her Bolivar Hotel suite. On retiring from public performance, Thelonious Monk moved to Nica's house in Weehawken, New Jersey where he died in 1982. (See links below for more details on Nica's involvement with jazz).
The Barris/Clifford song "I Surrender Dear" is a solo piano interlude that is given a more or less straight rendition that seems to emphasise just how radical is everything that surrounds it.
"Bemsha Swing", first performed in 1952, is perhaps the most iconic performance of all. It has become almost a right of passage for modern jazz musicians, having been also played by John Coltrane in the 60's (and recorded on "The Avant-Garde"). Here it gives full rein to Thelonious Monk's unique approach to piano. Max Roach adds timpani to his percussion. Sonny Rollins is once more fully engaged.
This is essential jazz, made the most of in this new remastered edition.
Related reviews: Thelonious Monk "Live At The It Club" Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane "Live At Carnegie Hall" Thelonious Monk "Live In '66" (DVD)
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Listen to profile of Nica (Pannonica de Koenigswarter). Includes interviews with Thelonious Monk and many other jazz greats. Offers a vivid account of jazz life in the 'fifties and 'sixties and tells a remarkable story The Jazz Baroness
Visit site dedicated to Nica The Jazz Baroness home page
Bret Primack's video for Concord Records interviewing Orrin Keepnews on "Brilliant Corners"
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