This film features two mid-1960s performances by the legendary post-bop pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk. The performances were for European TV audiences, and were filmed two days apart. The close proximity of the shows helps underscore to the deeply inventive improvisation of Monk's compact quartet -- the two versions of "Lulu's Back In Town" are amazingly different, each filled with strong solo and group efforts. Particularly striking is drummer Ben Riley, whose brushwork in the first set is nothing short of jaw-droppingly amazing. Although Monk is an odd and outwardly aloof character, there is tangible warmth and good humor between all the bandmembers... This is a great glimpse at this unique jazz legend playing during his (long!) creative peak. Highly recommended!
on July 5, 2008
We Americans have so much to thank the Europeans for - appreciating the creativity of great jazz musicians in certainly one of them. So many of these great artists were sadly ignored by mainstream audiences in the US, but adored in Europe - one such spirit was Thelonious Monk, whose contributions to the genre cannot be over-emphasized. As a result of jazz being relegated to small clubs and limited exposure for too many years, there are preciously few video documents of these players at work - the folks who put the Jazz Icons series together have done a great service to jazz fans, and to American musical history, by making this DVD and the others they have produced available - and at extremely reasonable prices.
The two sets featured here were shot during Monk's European tour of 1966 - three tunes in Norway (15 April) and three tunes in Denmark (17 April). Due to the technical difficulties at the time of filming for television - the bulk of the cameras used at the time, as well as the lighting requirements - these shows were done without an audience present, but the interplay between the combo members doesn't seem to suffer from any lack of engagement with a crowd. The group is Monk's classic quartet of the period, one of the best ensembles he assembled - Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, Larry Gales on double-bass and Ben Riley on drums. Everyone gets a chance to shine - Charlie Rouse's solos are brilliant, underscoring the fact that his work has been criminally underrated over the years by too many critics; Larry Gales is rock-steady on the bass, creating a firm foundation for the ensemble and spinning out solo work that is incredibly melodic and inventive; Ben Riley, along with Gales, is well up to the challenge of being the heartbeat of Monk's music, which many players over the years have found difficult. Riley's performance in Norway is especially noteworthy considering (according to the liner notes) that his drumset was temporarily lost by the airline, and he had to play on a kit thrown together at the last minute, consisting only of a bass drum, a snare, one cymbal and a high-hat. He rose to the occasion admirably, playing with both sticks and brushes, and his solos sound creative and fresh.
The six tunes include two versions of `Lulu's back in town' (each a unique performance); three Monk originals, `Blue Monk', `Round midnight' and `Epistrophy', which over the years became his signature / theme song; and an incredibly beautiful solo rendering of `Don't blame me'. The camera work is stellar - there is no wild panning, with the focus as it should be on whichever musicians was taking the lead at the moment. Monk's playing style - always noted as unusual, but perfectly suited to his compositions and `sound' - is given a good bit of close-up camera work, which is a special treat for both long-time fans and newcomers to his music. The picture is sharp, with very little degeneration or damage - no mean feat, especially when one considers that this material was filmed four decades ago. The audio quality is superb as well - mono, of course, but full-bodied and crystal-clear. There are extensive notes included, written by Don Sickler (who has worked closely with Monk's family and knows his music well), giving informative background information on the various musicians as well as Monk's music; there's also a short 'forward' by the pianist's son, T. S. Monk, that is touching and revelatory.
This collection - and the Jazz Icons series as a whole - is an invaluable treasure for jazz fans. It's a great opportunity to not only hear, but visually witness great artists (and in Monk's case, a true genius) at work, changing the course of musical history before our eyes.
on March 20, 2008
I've been a Monk-o-phile since 1955, but I had never seen him before. Someday, I am going to turn off the sound (which is very very very good) and just watch his fingers. He has an unusual "touch" on the keys---flat fingered and pounding or tickling by turns. On another DVD, Randy Weston points out that Monk put his whole body into the music. That is clear on this DVD. At the end of the Denmark set, he is drenched in sweat--not from moving around, but from the "work" of creating this music. It's an intensity that cannot come across an audio CD. One has to see it. The camera work (focusing a lot on hands) is enthralling.
on January 27, 2007
The playing is very good, but seems a bit awkward and strained due to the lack of an audience on both sessions; the players seem a but more relaxed on the second session (some of the players even make a cute imitation of the Monk dance). Overall it's fun watching Monk use those unorthodox fingerings to get his sound out and 'Round Midnight is classic. Definitely worth a purchase to see good, quality footage of the quartet, but I don't think it's the most enjoyable DVD of the series.
This DVD contains two rather short performances captured two days apart in Norway and Denmark in early 1966. Although each performance is around a half hour (the first is 32:40 minutes with the remaining 30 minutes allocated to the second), the music and performance held me spellbound, especially in the first set.
I'll explain why I was so spellbound in that first set: the drummer, the great Ben Riley, was playing what we drummers call a "bikini kit" - bass drum, snare drum, ride cymbal and hi-hats. That he took solos on the kit is not nearly as remarkable or as spellbinding as how he crafted those solos. More importantly, his interplay with bassist Larry Gales should be required watching for every drummer and bassist on the planet, no matter what kind of music they play. As a jazz drummer, I paid careful attention to how Riley and Gales were locked in and supporting each other and the music. Especially the music. Also, as a drummer, Riley's adroit switching back and forth between brushes and sticks seemed almost magical.
Certainly Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse are the center of this performance. I have always loved Rouse's tenor saxophone playing and have come to associate his tone with Monk ensembles. And, of course, Monk himself is the real reason to watch and listen to this video. He is one of what I call my personal trinity of pianists, which is Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell and Monk.
I would be hard pressed to pick my favorite from the first set, but the edge goes to Blue Monk because it is one of my favorite renditions (and Ben Riley and Larry Gales both were amazing on it.) Of course, Lulu's Back in Town and 'Round Midnight were highlights too.
The second set, in Denmark, has Ben Riley on a traditionally configured (for the era) drum kit. It starts with the same Lulu's Back in Town as the Norway performance, and follows up with Don't Blame Me and Epistrophy. The focus seemed to be on the rhythm section here, with both Riley (on his expanded kit) on fire and Larry Gales doing amazing things with his bass - and the both of them together is yet another example of how drummers and bassists should lock in and support the music.
Please accept my apologies for the undue focus on the rhythm section in this review, but I am a drummer and that is the perspective I bring. I am also a Monk fan, as well as someone who thinks Charlie Rouse is the best tenor saxophonist Monk ever had. Those factors make this set of performances both enjoyable and instructive.
on July 11, 2013
You cannot go wrong if, you like music at all, you should like this Jazz Quartet burning it down in 1966. Monk is a genius, he lays down two stellar performances here, One from Norway and one from Denmark. Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales, and Ben Riley join Thelonious on stage and you... step back in time with stunningly high quality audio and video to be left wanting more when it's over. This, ladies and Gentleman, is how you play Jazz.
Enjoy ! (Olga is not really into Jazz and forebode me from using capitol letters in this review)
THEN SHE BEAT ME ! GOD I LOVE THIS GIRL ! YEE HAR !
on June 21, 2008
This is good crisp visual with good audio of a group
that merits a glimpse of their contribution to music.
This scratched my itch for a view of the great Charlie
Rouse, who has been underated, as one cd is titled,
"The Unsung Hero". You will see Thelonious give way to
Charlie's superb playing. I thank Europe for filming
great American musicians for us.