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Thelonious Monk Live in ’66

Two concerts recorded in Norway and Denmark in 1966

Produced by David Peck and Phillip Galloway

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This is part of an ongoing Jazz Icons series that presents previously unreleased - perhaps that should be previously officially unreleased – concert footage. The production values are high and all questions of royalties and other responsibilities have been attended to with laudable respect. The booklet features an introduction by Monk’s son and an extensive essay by Don Sickler, a Jazz Icons consultant and Monk specialist. There are colour reproductions in montage of sleeve jackets, playbills and journal covers featuring Monk and some well-reproduced photographs.

The package itself gives us two Scandinavian concerts, lasting half an hour each, recorded within days of each other during a European tour in 1966. In addition to Monk and his long-standing tenor player Charlie Rouse the quartet comprised bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley.

The first concert took place in Norway in what looks like the atrium of an Art Museum. There was no audience. The sound has been brilliantly restored. It sounds crisp, immediate and impressive. The visuals however are rather grainy and have suffered degradation. Those tell-tale lines that streak horizontally down the picture give a rather antique air to proceedings though in truth it’s no worse than many films of the period. One does however get a shock when the audio and visual images are so different, the ear anticipating a similarly muffly sound perspective.

The second concert has similarly good sound and thankfully far better picture quality with the proviso that – both concerts were filmed in black and white – the image can get a bit dark now and then. Clarity however remains untroubled; sweat and ruffled cuffs are pleasingly visible.

Camera angles vary. In the first concert there’s a nostril-intrusive shot from beneath Rouse, though the camera pans over to Monk soon enough. In the second concert we have a few geometricians wielding the cameras. There’s a shot of the pianist, face on, taken through the piano lid, which has its stick up. We also get a few shots of Riley "through" the piano as well, which involves a clever use of angles.

The band is caught in semi-private moments, as for instance when Rouse and Riley are seen mildly fooling about during Monk’s solo on Don’t Blame Me. We see Riley stubbing out a cigarette as the band goes into its closer, Epistrophy, in the Danish concert. Doubtless today he’d be doused in foam and arrested. Monk of course sports his trademark headgear. He sweats violently and stands up to dance with a slow- motion circular shuffle with elevated left elbow raise as other band members solo (he, famously, tended to sit out the accompanying to add some variety and enjoyed this incantation-like shuffle). I’d not realised before quite how much percussive and quite unnecessary-seeming hands-crossing Monk indulged in. His left hand is forever where his right should be and vice versa.

The intricacies and subtleties of rhythm establishment between Monk and Rouse were now fully in place. To watch both men is to see trust and goading in action. Rouse was often scoffed at, especially in his later days, for being some kind of journeyman but irrefutable evidence to the contrary exists wherever one wishes to find it. Riley and Gales are irreproachable colleagues.

The tune selection is standard for the quartet. Lulu’s Back in Town opens both concerts and we also hear Blue Monk and ’Round Midnight in addition to the two songs mentioned above. One of the pleasures of this DVD lies in hearing the significant divergences between the two versions of Lulu’s Back in Town.

If this disc is representative of the Jazz Icons series than we can look forward to some thoughtfully presented and historically important concerts.

Jonathan Woolf


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