Monday, February 22, 2010

Thelonious Monk: Yin/Yang at the Five Spot

Thelonious Monk
Live In New York Vol. I
(Explore Records)
Charlie Rouse (sax)
Ahmed Abudl-Malik (bass)
Roy Haynes (drums)

As some jazz fans may know, the legendary Five Spot Club in New York was the center for many a historic performances from the Thelonious Monk Quartet in 1958. A ban of performing in New York City due to a previous drug charge had been completed and Monk had just finished up a date at the Newport Jazz festival the prior month. The first dates were in August with his standing trio of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass), Roy Haynes (drums) adding fiery saxophonist Johnny Griffin. These dates have been preserved on two great albums In Action (OJC) and Misterioso (OJC).

In late September of '58 Monk was looking for a new saxophone player as Griffin had decided to continue on with his own band. Griffin and Sonny Rollins both told Monk to hire a young cat out of Washington D.C. named Charlie Rouse. And the rest would be history. Charlie Rouse was one of most underrated saxophonists of his generation. He melded incredibly well to Monk sometimes complex compositions.

The Five Spot would be Charlie Rouse's first performance with Thelonious Monk and it is astounding. The recording, is rough from the sound quality perspective (this would really only be for the collector) but the playing is unbelievably tight and on fire. There very few miscues that many would notice during this date. The band pushes each other to reach some incredible highs throughout the night including Monk staples "Rhythm-a-nig" and "Friday The Thirteenth". While this date is historic for being the first date of Charlie Rouse it is Roy Haynes playing that also steals the show.

Fast, slow, fast. Intense, beautiful and soaring. The album feels the way a live "bootleg" should (club noise, announcements, muffle, fizzle and a lot of talking by Monks companion at the time who recorded the date) and it's great to seat and listen to loud. I always loose myself in the sound and the atmosphere whenever I listen to it. Live In New York isn't the album I would recommend to anyone that isn't a die-hard Thelonious Monk fan; but if you are it worth seeking out and its not expensive at all. A really cool document that closes out an interesting period during '58 where Monk would meet his yin to his yang--marvelous stuff.

The footage below is much later but it highlights how well Monk and Rouse sounded together.

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