Track Selection: Tea for Two (Caesar, Youmans) – re-ripped
Thelonious Monk (p) Oscar Pettiford (b) Art Blakey (d) Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, March 17, and April 3, 1956
Monk was signed by Orin Keepnews to his Riverside label in 1955, and like Monk’s Riverside debut, Thelonious Monk Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington (Riverside RLP 12-201) The Unique Thelonious consists only of standards. It marked a continuation of Keepnews’s strategy to broaden consumer interest in Monk by having him record cover versions of well-known material which, Riverside hoped, would help to break down the prevailing perception that Monk’s original music was “too difficult” for mass-market acceptance.
Featuring strong performances from Monk and his early group members, Art Blakey and Oscar Pettiford, the album itself is sometimes overlooked. Without the benefit of the forceful compositions of Monk’s later recordings, we are offered instead deceptively familiar standards, which are then subjected to Monk’s unique approach to melody, harmony and tempo. At times it is like letting Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddie Kreuger loose in Santa’s Grotto.
Jazz critics consider his following Riverside release, Brilliant Corners, the must-have, but for it’s subversive delights, Unique is a strong contender. Indeed, the problem for the critic is that ultimately all Monk’s recordings are must-have.
In the notes to The Complete Thelonious Monk on Riverside, producer Orrin Keepnews recalls overhearing the pianist preparing a sideman for a recording session. “Don’t pay too much attention to what I’m playing behind you,” Monk cautioned. “Because when we record I’ll probably be playing something completely different…” As always with Monk, expect the unexpected.
Vinyl: London LTZ-U 15071 1st UK release of RLP 12-209 vinyl 160 gm
UK first release on Decca’s London label, with pressing by Decca, New Malden.The atmospheric cover photograph of Monk is probably on of the finest advertisements FOR smoking ever seen: beautiful duotone printing, side-lit profile, creative genius scoring music (he can write!) while whisps of cigarette smoke curl in the darkness, let down only by the absent hat.
Riverside 12-209 the original US release enjoyed a slightly less atmospheric cover, followed shortly by a Riverside promotional “postage stamp” campaign cover. Of the three, my vote is for the London release, not that I have an axe to grind. Not much (cue Rule Britania)
The Decca matrix suggests an unusual production history: 3B/1B. “B” was Decca’s regular engineer on jazz recordings, Ron Mason. Side One appears to be a third attempt at mastering the recording. Bad day at the plant, Ron? Not withstanding production probems over the tea cakes in New Malden, Decca pressings are very good. I hesitate to say it, but on albeit limited experience, often better than US Riverside. Decca New Malden, yeah!
Source: Central London record shop
A shop I visit from time to time, sometimes something of interest, sometimes, not. Pulling the cover from the rack, it was immediately recognised as I walked with it over to the counter. Great record, I was listening to it only last night, said the manager. He knew the vinyl shelves were full of mostly so-so stuff, and row after row of The Evil Silver Disk which most customers are buying, he’s running a business, however this was something special that had just come in. Special enough to take home for personal listening. That’s why I could never work in or run a record shop. I would refuse to let the good stuff go. Keep your money, it’s mine.