Selection: Blue Monk (Monk)
Thelonious Monk (piano) live in San Francisco, CA, October 20 and 21, 1959.
Another musical journey, from one extreme to the other, from Big Band to solo.
Alone. One of the musical areas I have felt uncomfortable with is a solo instrument for forty minutes. Steve Lacy solo soprano sax for forty minutes? I turned down a copy of that recently – file under “too challenging”. If Big Band is too big, is solo too small?
As a result I have overlooked artists solo albums, including, foolishly, Monk. Big mistake. Solo Monk is extraordinary. The man has an orchestra flowing through his fingers, tunes pouring out of his head There no need for an accompanying rhythm section, it’s already there – a rollercoaster of rhythm, melody and harmony all in one. It is not “sparse”, it is intoxicating. In some way it is more interesting not to have accompaniment – you can focus uninterruptedly on Monk’s music.
The tunes are all familiar but they always sound fresh and with Monk, you are never sure exactly which notes will come next, as he devils with the tune. At one point I had to check whether it was Monk’s feet stomping the beat or my own.
It’s a great cover design – and one to add to the Monk hat collection. The cover’s thick card and dimpled gloss laminated finish is of a weight and quality rarely seen outside of Blue Notes of a certain period, confirmed when I noted with little surprise it dated from 1959. I read somewhere our friends in Tokyo, the Sawano Brothers, had put back into service a Fifties colour printing press to provide more authentic period finish to their repros, as modern technology – just like in audio – seem unable to recreate it. It was lost later Sixties, when cover manufacturing produced a product less prone to splitting (and instead came unglued, pushing sales of Bostick and Sellotape through the roof) All the more remarkable for being an Interdisk European pressing by the Dutch Philips plant.
Cover quality is a good shortcut to weeding out modern reissues from vintage pressings in a crate. You just know when you are holding a dull-finish thin cover, which shouts “reissue!” The only exception I have seen is US Contemporary, some of whose vintage covers are a badly-fitting thin paper paste-up. Never understood the false economy, given the quality of what was within, but perhaps someone took the view these things were not expected to last fifty years.
Vinyl: Riverside RLP 312 mono UK release pressed by Philips (Holland).
A few of my American Riversides are a little more noisy than I would expect, for reasons I feel related to manufacture rather than handling, and do not measure up to the quality of some of the other labels like Columbia, Blue Note and Prestige. Some Riverside’s were pressed on the West Coast, which may be connected. Whatever the reason, Riverside is a label where I am generally more happy with UK/European Interdisk editions, most pressed early on by Decca and later by Philips. With Philips it is a lottery whether you get British or Dutch origin but both are solidly engineered and clean pressings that sound fresh and lively.
Source: Central London record shop with handy fruit and vegetable market nearby, so the record went home with some nice ripe figs and a scoop of red pointed peppers. Not that you need to know these things, but there is more to life than record collecting. Not a lot, mind you.
As regards solo albums, are there any titles you can recommend to a recovering solo-phobic? Piano is an easy one, as it can deliver complexity other instruments would struggle to match, but was it a mistake to pass up on that solo Steve Lacy? No cheating with duets or multi-tracking, just a single instrument, alone. Over to you.
Postscript: Going Dutch
LJC reader Cristian has a copy of Monk Alone in SF, also a Dutch Philips pressing, but many interesting differences, including what appears to be an original US cover. He kindly sent me photos, which I have put side by side. Can you spot the differences?
Cristian’s liner notes have the “missing” Monk Photo, Bwhaaa!