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Music: Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, Pure Genius

In the Fifties, jazz artists like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk were among a handful of musicians who shaped the future of modern American music for several decades. The fact that they played together and that their sessions at The Five Spot Cafe were recorded is nearly a miracle, since they were under contract to different record labels. They both appear on another record ( Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants- Prestige LP 7150 ), but they don’t play together! So this disc is the sole representation of their musical collaboration.

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Ruby My Dear shows the young ‘Trane playing mostly in the upper register of his tenor sax, with much vibrato, punctuating the sentiment in the tune. We can hear instantly the facility with which he deals with Monk’s harmonic structure in this poignant ballad. Ironic piano solos are commonplace for Monk, but here he is more straighforward, with a half chorus that veers away from the polysyllabic phrasing of ‘Trane’s tenor. Monk’s comping under Coltrane’s restatement of the melody is unobtrusively perfect! On Nutty, Monk’s solo echos lines that ‘Trane has drawn, showing that the conversation between sax and piano is between equals. The high point of this disc is that Monk and ‘Trane clearly speak each other’s musical language. Over and over, you can hear the attention they pay to the phrasing of one another, such that they complement rather than compete.

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Two of the tunes add several other horns, including Coleman Hawkins, who gives forth with a taut chorus on Off Minor. The drummer here is Art Blakey, whose touch is very different from Shadow Wilson, more cymbal oriented, except for the characteristic press rolls that add exclamation points to solos.
The disc ends with an unaccompanied piano solo — Functional — by Monk. It’s very sad that there isn’t a cellar in Lower Manhattan with a box of tape from other Five Spot session waiting to be discovered. This is the sort of music I never tire of hearing.

 

 

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