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Reviews: Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Reviews: 5

Review by sgb October 9, 2003 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This album was recorded in April, June and July 1957, but not released until 1961. What is offered here is all that remains of the Monk/Coltrane sessions. I can’t begin to tell you how incredible the music is. I originally bought the album because I am very much a fan of mid-century jazz saxophone players — Parker, Rollins, Coltrane, Hawkins, Desmond and a host of others. In fact, I once related in my column for The Sensible Sound that I thought the Creator bestowed the sax upon us so that we could all enjoy jazz. Pianos, guitars and brass are great, but to this writer, nothing compares to the evocative nature and sonority of a saxophone, no matter whether it’s a tenor, alto or soprano. I have to tell you though, that it’s Monk at his piano who shines brightest here. His ventures into atonal improvs are beyond comparison; his compositions stellar — all 6 of them (2 are bonus tracks, not appearing on the original LP). It is, after all, a recording that might be considered one of a teacher and his prized pupil. Critics consider this album one of Monk’s best. It well represents the music he wrote that musicologists cite to describe him as the most eccentric jazz musician of the century. The album features 3 quartet selections, 2 septets (with Coleman Hawkins as an added attraction) and one 9:42 piano solo, “Functional,” closing out the disk.

Coltrane had gone to work for Monk at New York’s Five Spot shortly after he (Coltrane) parted company with Miles Davis in 1957. His association with Monk proved to have quite an impact on him, as evidenced by the evolution of his playing found here and later on Giant Steps. For all intents, Monk was his tutor, and Coltrane would later recount stories of going to Monk’s house early mornings for advice on problems he was having with some chord progressions. During performances, Monk often left the stage for long periods, allowing Coltrane to experiment with the involved soloing that would become his trademark. If you are a Monk fan who has been toying with buying this, do it and enjoy; you can thank me later. If you are one who hasn’t yet grown to appreciate bop, this one might not be the most accessible introduction to the genre.

The tracks are mostly mono, of course — only two of the six are stereo — but don’t let that dissuade you from picking this up. The sound is excellent, if only slightly reticent, for its age. Even though most of the tracks are not stereo, Monk and Coltrane enjoy distinct locations within the smaller mono sound stage. I compared this new SACD release to the K2 remaster that was issued in 2000, and found that there are several differences between them.

Aside from being less compressed, the new SACD appears to have a lighter, better-defined sound. Both appear to have about the same tonal balance, but the SACD seems to let more of the subtle micro-dynamics come through. One example of this is in one’s ability to hear the air coming from Coltrane’s saxophone keys. The upper harmonics of the piano exhibit a bit more air too.

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Review by Claude May 15, 2004
Performance:   Sonics:
This review is only about the sonics of this reissue. The music is first rate.

I don't agree with sgb's opinion on the sound of this SACD, when compared to the previous K2 20Bit remastered CD (not to be confused with the awful 20Bit remasters by ZYX Germany). It seems very light and thin compared to the CD, which offers a fuller and more direct sound. An additional problem exists with the few stereo tracks, which are out-takes from the "Monk's music" session. On the K2 CD, the stereo perspective is well spread and balanced between the two speakers, whereas on the SACD the mix favors extreme panning of the instruments to one channel and creates a sonic hole between the speakers. There is also a slight phasing problem which makes it sound like those early "experimental" stereo recordings. Maybe the SACD helps to analyze this recording, but the CD sounds more natural and enjoyable.

I have upgraded quite a few Fantasy K2 CDs and XRCDs to SACD (unfortunately Fantasy always reissues the same titles in their audiophile series), and this is the only one where I prefer the CD. The K2 engineers at JVC have simply done a better remastering job.

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Review by FivePointOne July 21, 2004 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Here's another review solely on the sonics. I was really surprised at how little this SACD is an improvement over the previously issued CD. Normally, the piano comes out much cleaner and realistic in SACD than in standard redbook. Unfortunately, that's not quite the rule with this title. The track "Functional" is a perfect example. Fantasy could/should have done a much better job with this SACD.

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Review by JW August 22, 2004
Performance:   Sonics:
This great album brings together Monk, Coltrane and Hawkins, plus Art Blakey on drums. So who are Ray Copeland, Gigi Gryce and Wilbur Ware ? A few words on each of them - just to add a different angle to the reviews here:

Gryce played altosax beween 1950 and 1960. He retired from the jazz scene to dedicate himself to teaching. He played with Lionel Hampton, Oscar Pettiford and Donald Byrd.

Copeland played trumpet and is considered a composer and instructor spanning a period of 40 years (1940-1980). He played with Al Kooper, Blakey and Louis Bellson to name but a few.

Ware was considered to be on a similar level as Pettiford and Blanton. A very influential bass player. He played from the 40's to the 60's - a period where he suffered health problems - and into the 70's, working with Eldridge, Rollins and others and recording for Blue Note and Riverside as a sideman.

Sonically I concur with the others who gave it a three star rating. What makes listening to Monk so interesting ? Try this: spin some Bill Evans and afterwards switch to Monk. I love Evans, but Monk is so much more interesting and surprising in his treatment of melody and chord changes. There is more experiment and counterpoints there, while Evans keeps it all nicely on track. Different styles, both masters of their trade, but Monk presents you with more of the unexpected. A continuing source of musical discovery.


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Review by Croc April 27, 2005 (1 of 3 found this review helpful)
for me this disc is a mixed bag.
sonics is far from what i used to get from Fantasy's SACDs.
3 out of 6 tracks can be found on "Monk's musik" SACD.
but the last track is beatiful.

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