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Music Consumption: Thelonious Monk
02/24/2001 Thelonious Monk: The Complete Riverside Recordings of Thelonious Monk

Where to begin? Years ago I used to borrow this from the library--fifteen CDs of everything Monk recorded for Riverside between 1954 and 1960 (or everything that survives, at any rate). Ultimately, someone checked it out and never returned it: thus ended my days of listening to it. I told myself that someday, I'd own a copy, and this year I went for it. It's a collection of treasures from Monk's most fertile period, and revealing, enthralling liner notes. It begins with a disc of standards and a disc of Ellington pieces, when Riverside's Orrin Keepnews was hoping to focus attention on Monk's excellent piano playing skills and his strengths as an interpreter. After these releases, apparently, the public and the critics were ready for some Monk originals, and Brilliant Corners was what he gave them. Probably my favorite Monk piece ever, BC was never played all the way through--too difficult. Every other chorus is double tempo, and the theme is chock full of strange intervals. It's beautiful and sinister. Sonny Rollins does a fine job with his solo, and Ernie Hawkins begins his strong and twisted, but he loses his inspiration. Nonetheless, it's an astonishing, jarring piece. And there's a whole (short) album to go after it.

As collections go, the entire Himself sessions are here, including several alternate takes of "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You," "I Should Care," and 22 minutes of run-throughs of "Round Midnight"--in addition to the released version. But wait--there's more: a gorgeously Monk-ified "April in Paris" and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," and "Monk's Mood" with Wilbur Ware and John Coltrane. If the solo piano pieces on Himself give you the feeling of hanging out in a fascinating smoky bar with no idea what time it is, "Monk's Mood" is like wandering outside and discovering an early summer evening. This, friends, is music.

And...there's more. Club dates. More studio dates. The amazing Town Hall concert, with beyond-lush expanded-horn performances of "Crepuscule with Nellie," "Off Minor," "Monk's Mood," and the thoroughly lovable "Thelonious." ("Even a tone-deaf person could hum it," said Monk.) I have to confess that "Little Rootie-Tootie" and "Friday the 13th" stick a fishhook into my brain and jiggle it around--not in a good way, either. But otherwise, it's all good. And...there's more. Much more. Several more recording dates and performances. Awesome.