The new lost Thelonious Monk album, called Monk and out now via Gearbox Records, is the sort of release that, understandably, has the potential to set the jazz world on fire. The long-player, a concert recorded in Copenhagen in 1963, constitutes an excellent example of Monk's power, if not further proof of the pianist's genius in this era.
Backed by Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, John Ore on double bass, Frankie Dunlop on drums, Monk runs through a mix of standards and originals for an appreciative (and thankfully, quiet) audience in Denmark. An epic "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" showcases Monk's ease with a ballad, the piano lines unfurling like ribbons, while the looser "Monk's Dream" sees Monk choose his notes and chords with expert care even as Rouse boogies up and down the hook with his sax. Throughout this set, Ore is to be commended for serving as the anchor as so much of this concert feels like a duel between two titans, Monk's piano and Rouse's sax battling it out for a listener's undivided attention. On "Nutty", Thelonious exercises some lyrical restraint amid Charlie's squawks. If the runs on the keys on this one are nearly gentle, Rouse seems to be the one carrying the melody forward, Monk's piano-work so subtle here.
For those of us who, like me, positively love that Columbia Records Monk stuff, Monk is absolutely essential as it features the players for those releases at the peak of their powers. The folks at Gearbox Records are to be thanked profusely for putting this out on a variety of formats (download, vinyl, and compact disc).