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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


Plays Duke Ellington

Riverside 0888072301283




1. It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
2. Sophisticated Lady
3. I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)
4. Black and Tan Fantasy
5. Mood Indigo
6. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
7. Solitude
8. Caravan

Thelonious Monk - Piano
Oscar Pettiford - Bass
Kenny Clarke - Drums

The link between Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington is a clear yet subtle one. The two men's playing comes together in the work of Stan Tracey, who somehow managed to combine their same-but-different styles. Tracey probably recognised the links between the two men: particularly their harmonic daring, since Duke's adventurous approach to chords is reflected in this album by Thelonious, who always seemed to be in search of new voicings. Monk's playing here is also a mixture of sparseness and florid runs, which matches Ellington's similar mixture of opposites. We so often hear Monk playing his own compositions that it is refreshing and novel to hear his interpretation of eight Ducal themes.

A tune like Sophisticated Lady makes the comparisons crystal clear, since Monk's interpretation emphasises the minor shifts. This album, produced by Orrin Keepnews, was actually recorded in 1955 and was Monk's first album for the Riverside label but it still sounds fresh because of Monk's exploratory approach to the Ellington tunes. Savour the way he carefully treads a path through I Got It Bad, starting with tentative exploration before he breaks into bouncy swing, backed by Oscar Pettiford's sturdy double bass. The exploration process is backed up by Orrin Keepnews's liner notes which describe how, at the recording session, Thelonious "set up the sheet music, and hesitantly began to work out melody lines as if he were seeing the music for the first time".

Oscar Pettiford gets several bass solos but Kenny Clarke's drums are virtually inaudible on most tracks, although you can hear his Latin-American rhythms on Caravan. In fact the spotlight is firmly on Thelonious for most of the album and it reveals what a fascinating improviser he could be when tackling someone else's compositions. The sleeve notes suggest that the choice of recording a whole album of Ellington tunes was motivated by a desire to present Thelonious in a more user-friendly light than some of his more way-out recordings. The tunes are certainly recognisable, but the treatment is entirely Monk.

Tony Augarde


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