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

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Brilliant Corners

Riverside 0888072305014




1. Brilliant Corners
2. Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are
3. Pannonica
4. I Surrender, Dear
5. Bemsha Swing
6. Pannonica (incomplete)
Thelonious Monk - Piano, celeste
Ernie Henry - Alto sax (tracks 1-4, 6)
Sonny Rollins - Tenor sax
Clark Terry - Trumpet (track 5)
Oscar Pettiford - Bass (tracks 1-4, 6)
Paul Chambers - Bass (track 5)
Max Roach - Drums, trimpani


Thelonious Monk was one of the most "difficult" musicians in jazz - and this is one of his most difficult albums. He always trod his own very individual path, creating new jagged rhythms and seemingly often playing the gaps between the notes on the piano. His compositions could be difficult, too - the title-track took more than 20 takes to get down on disc satisfactorily.

Yet, strangely enough, this album established Monk more decisively than most of his previous recordings. His two earlier Riverside albums had concentrated on tunes by Duke Ellington and jazz standards, but this 1956 album allowed Thelonious to feature his own compositions as four of the five tracks (track 6 is a minimal bonus: an attempt at Pannonica which breaks down after the first chorus).

The title-track was understandably hard for the musicians to get their heads round. It doubles the tempo on alternate choruses and has an edgy theme typical of Monk. You can hear Max Roach manfully trying to fit his drumming to Monk's dislocated style. On the comparatively straightforward Bemsha Swing, Max plays timpani as well as the conventional drums, sounding at times like a thunderstorm passing nearby. But his solos throughout the album are typically well-constructed.

Sonny Rollins is the ideal tenorist for this session, as his playing has a nervy energy similar to Monk's. Altoist Ernie Henry sometimes sounds less happy, even though he had previously worked in Thelonious's quartet. He actually died the year after this recording was made, at the early age of 31. He is replaced on Bemsha Swing by Clark Terry - not, one might have thought, an obvious choice of a musician for a Monk session, but he acquits himself well.

On Pannonica, Monk plays a rather tinny-sounding celeste as well as piano, and I Surrender, Dear is a piano solo which is possibly the most accessible track on the album - because Monk is playing a familiar tune.

I can't say that this CD is "easy listening" - in fact it might be classified as "uneasy listening". I certainly prefer many of Thelnious's other albums - which would be a better place for newcomers to start, since this one might put them off. Nevertheless, this is an important album in Monk's career development.

Tony Augarde






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