Music Reviews
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside

Concord Music Group

Covering about a ten-year period, The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside is a perfect starting place for anyone interested in getting a handle on the talented pianist and composer. Monk’s career spanned about 25 years, and yet, while other jazz artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane regularly reinvented their music, Monk’s music appeared almost fully realized from the beginning.

While Monk’s “missing notes” and spaces in his piano solos can make it difficult, almost jarring, for first time listeners, the CD starts off with the swinging “Bye-Ya,” off his self-titled Prestige album, showing that Monk knew the rules of composition, he just chose to subvert and explore them. “We See,” off the same album is a prime example of this – Monk’s solo is melodic, yet somehow disharmonious at the same time. This would be a pattern Monk would explore throughout his career. In fact, anyone looking for an intermediate step after The Definitive could start with his two albums with Sonny Rollins bundled together with, say, Brilliant Corners, and have a great collection.

The collection showcases Monk’s work with a variety of different groups ranging from trios to big bands, and with an amazing collection of players – Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Max Roach, just to name a few. It is interesting that while the other musicians’ playing styles vary throughout the years on the compilation, Monk’s solos retain the same feel that he featured on his very first release. The track selection on The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside is excellent; it would be hard to argue for a more definitive collection without making it a box set. But considering that Monk did his best work on the two labels, this will probably remain the “greatest hits” collection. Anyone looking for an introduction to Monk or jazz in general should pick this up.

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