In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. Accordingly, Thelonious Monk's volume draws from his early piano trio recordings with Blue Note and his expanded ensembles and solo explorations for Riverside and Columbia. Monk frequently re-recorded many of his now-standard compositions in different formats, so it's difficult to choose definitive versions; the compilers have wisely opted to present the full spectrum of arrangement approaches Monk employed over the course of his career. Not quite all of Monk's best-known pieces are here, but the vast majority are: "Well You Needn't," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," "Straight, No Chaser," "Ruby, My Dear," and of course "'Round Midnight." There are also excellent supplementary choices like "Brilliant Corners," which was too complicated to really become a standard (and had to be pieced together from several studio takes because the musicians never quite got through it flawlessly). Monk made a tremendous amount of brilliant, harmonically quirky music over the course of his career, and Ken Burns Jazz makes an excellent entry point for the neophyte who wants to begin exploring what Monk was all about.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey