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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Thelonious Himself

Riverside 0888072305106




1. April in Paris
2. (I Don't Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (With You) (take 7)
3. Functional (take 2)
4. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
5. I Should Care (take 3)
6. 'Round Midnight (take 7)
7. All Alone
8. Monk's Mood (false start)
9. Monk's Mood
10. (I Don't Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (With You) (take 5)
11. Functional (take 1)
12. I Should Care (take 1)
13. I Should Care (take 2)
Thelonious Monk - Piano
John Coltrane - Tenor Sax (track 9)
Wilbur Ware - Bass (track 9)

This CD is particularly interesting for two reasons. Recorded in April 1957, it was Thelonious Monk's first album of predominantly solo piano music (although he had included one unaccompanied track on each of his first three Riverside albums). And one track (Monk's Mood) includes John Coltrane, recording with Monk for the first time. There has been great excitement recently over the discovery of some live recordings of Monk and Coltrane in concert at Carnegie Hall in November the same year. But this is one of only a few studio recordings that Monk and Trane made for the Riverside label during the few months they worked together.

Despite the excitement over the newly-discovered concert recordings, the version of Monk's Mood here is fairly unexciting, because Coltrane is not particularly eloquent. The album is actually more interesting because you can savour Thelonious alone at the piano, which is like going on a mystery tour with a driver who is uncertain of where he's going. These recordings have an exploratory feel which typifies one of the best things about jazz: "the sound of surprise". Monk appears almost as surprised as the listener as he picks his way carefully over the keyboard. He turns chance discoveries into themes for improvisation, creating a mood which producer Orrin Keepnews describes in his sleeve-notes as "a quality of thinking-out-loud". And, like Sonny Rollins, he seems to delight in taking an unlikely tune for jazz improvisation like All Alone and seeing what happens.

The album shows that Monk's music was rooted not only in the blues but also in a long tradition of piano-playing which included the boogie-woogie and stride idioms (Orrin Keepnews quotes him as saying at one point: "I sound like James P. Johnson"). The blues and other "traditional" influences can be clearly heard in the two versions of Functional. Monk's playing is also distinguished by his obsession with discovering new sounds and chords, which has been characterised as trying to play the cracks between the notes on the piano keyboard. This opened up a whole new world of sound, turning discords into an integral part of his individual style. It is fascinating to hear him exploring a jazz standard like I Should Care and finding new things in it.

As the album title says, this really is Thelonious Himself.

Tony Augarde


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