Saturday, February 05, 2005
Thelonious Monk: Solo Monk.
Tonight's active listen in the midst of Black History Month is the great solo Thelonious Monk recording for Columbia from late 1964.
This is easily one of those classic jazz albums that belong in the "must have" top ten of any self-respecting jazz fan. Solo Monk consists of a set of interpretations of standards and some Monk originals though by now it's hard not to regard every Monk composition as an integral part of the body of "standards" that every jazz artist is expected to know.
There's a great clarity to this recording. His interpretations of familiar songs lays bare the essence of Monk's creative approach. One can hear the influences that inform his music. One can hear the harmonic approach that made him such an important founding influence on the bebop movement. The percussive quality of his pianism is on full display. The rhythmic approach that draws from Art Tatum and Bud Powell is clearly audible along with the harmonic voicings that are uniquely Monk. One can hear the sheer physical presence of mind and body working these ivories.
I never tire of studying this recording. I like to focus on what Thelonious Monk is doing with his left hand. That's where the stride piano influence on Monk (particularly Fats Waller and James P. Johnson) is most obvious. Though I'm particularly fascinated by how and when he breaks up the strides and what he does harmonically when he does. I love the percussive quality that comes into play when he's deep in the stride pocket. I also like to focus on Monk's sense of time. It's a major component of his sound. There's a great, laid back yet relentless momentum that propels this playing.
The stand out track for me is "Ruby, My Dear." Something extra seems to come through when Monk interprets his own compositions. Everything just seems to hang off of the melody of this one. The harmonic voicings and rhythmic content seem to grow organically from it. The embellishments that grow within the spaces of this melody reveal the sonic vocabulary of planet Monk. The intervals he chooses for voicings and melodic lines are incredibly appealing. When I step back from those elements I find a deeper appreciation for the sheer sound he's painting with this one instrument.