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First, we have Monk's strange and wonderful tunes; sparse, interesting in their apparent dissonance, but really well within the jazz mainstream. Most importantly, they provide wonderful platforms for the jazz musician who has open ears and who is creative enough to understand what Monk was really up to.
Second, Monk seemed to have reached some sort of personal zenith during his stay at the historic Five Spot in New York. His playing, always interesting if unorthodox, was terrific here - full of surprise, and invention. The curious thing about Monk is that he is essentially a stride pianist, but one who played not in the stride tradition, but on the edge of bebop, and with more apparent dissonance than anyone.
The real key to these recordings, however, is Johnny Griffin. I have heard Monk with Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Charlie Rouse and others, but Griffin seemed to take more advantage of the the opportunity given him by Monk to totally create than anyone. Griffin was known at the time as the "world's fastest tenor player", and while the sobriquet may have been earned, it was what he played more than how fast that made his pairing with Monk so interesting. He was very informed by the blues and showed how Monk's odd harmonies weren't really that odd; what he played fit what Monk wrote.
This, along with Monk's "In Action" album, is one of my favorite recordings.
Monk's own compositions were strange vehicles that even the strongest soloists have had difficulty with. Could it be the unusual structure or melody of his compositions? I don't know, but what I do know is that even as strong as a soloist as Johnny Griffin is, he had difficulty with some of Monk's tunes. Although, the untrained ear can't quite hear the subtle mistakes. Griffin made some as does every musician, but what makes these performances compelling is that Griffin is locked into this music. He loved Monk so much as did so many other musicians who have known or worked with him. I think if Griffin would have stuck around with Monk for a longer period of time, he might have been the greatest saxophonist to have played with him, but unfortunately the recordings with these two masters are simply not available.
The title track, which Monk has played many times gets a great treatment here as does "Let's Cool One," "Nutty," and "In Walked Bud." You can always expect to be pleasantly surprised when you hear Monk whether live or in the studio, he makes jazz music unlike any other.
Great live recording that everyone should get if you're a Monk or Griffin fan.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Critics of Johnny Griffin are confounded by his masterful readings of Thelonius Monk tunes on this album and In Action. Recommended.Published on March 30, 2014 by alan
Monks music is about as jazz as you can get. Great musicians accompany him on this CD. Great seller and a great price too.Published on August 26, 2013 by RCB
Monk recorded several indispensable albums, and this is one of them. Each cut is beautifully and thrillingly performed by a tight, smart band. Read morePublished on January 20, 2013 by Gregory S. Martinez
This album almost caused me to quit playing the alto sax back around '63. Griffin's work on it was so spectacular. Read morePublished on December 6, 2009 by gregbirddizelec
These five-spot dates, along with 'In Action' belong in every collection. What live recordings should be, but rarely are.Published on May 11, 2005 by Macallan-18