17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
monk minus monk,
This review is from: Plays Duke Ellington (Audio CD)
There has probably never been a musician as uncompromising as Thelonious Monk. He did it his way to an extent that Frank Sinatra could never have dreamed of. However, after some personal problems and a stint with the less than supportive Prestige records, Monk's career was at a low ebb, so when Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews suggested that he do a couple albums of other people's tunes as a kind of icebreaker, Monk agreed.
Ellington was one of the most obvious of Monk's influences- ("Sounds like he's stealing some of my stuff" Ellington is supposed to have said on first hearing a Monk record)- and a set of Ellington' greatest hits would seem like a natural way to let Monk be Monk while playing a set of jazz standards.
Unfortunately, whether out of respect for the material, some degree of tentativeness with a new producer and record label, or from a conscious effort to smooth off some of Monk's more controversial characteristics, the playing on this first Riverside LP seems a little like Smooth Monk. You can tell it's Monk, but kind of generi-sized, as if to convince Erroll Garner fans that Thelonious was their friend, and really wouldn't hurt them. The result is a nice average kind of album: has its moments ("Solitude"), but a little dull in spots ("It Don't Mean A Thing...").
On the next Riverside LP, a collection of standards called "The Unique Thelonious Monk", the arrangements and playing are much more angular and Monk-like, and by the third LP, "Brilliant Corners" no holds are barred, no compromises made. The rest of the Monk Riverside catalog is Monk his way: "Monk's Music", "Thelonious Himself", "Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall", "5xMonkx5"- all examples of one of the most sharply etched, self-aware musical visions ever.
As phase one of a marketing strategy, "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington" was fine, but as a Monk album it's just okay.