Thelonious Monk

Live in New York, Vol. 1

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As the Thelonious Monk estate releases unearthed recordings of the modern jazz master, one wonders about the real need for some of them to see the public light of day. This may be one that could be questionable as to its relevance as a commercial item. For historical purposes, it is the first appearance, live or in the studio, of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse to appear in a band that he would flourish and excel in for many years thereafter. From autumn of 1958, this club date at the Five Spot in NYC is a "field recording" from reel-to-reel two-track tapes done with a single microphone. The palpable crowd noise throughout most of the set is distracting past the point where the music can be heard clearly. But even more so, the band's sound, especially Monk, Rouse, and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik is muted and muffled. Even with headphones it is a difficult listen. What is worse is that Monk's legendary companion the Baroness Pannonica DeKoenigswarter makes announcements on the tape, not to the audience itself, and is heard quite audibly in the background carrying on conversations. It's very annoying, although there are rare documented instances where the voice of the Baroness has ever been heard. There's an on-purpose banal talkover with Five Spot owner Joe Termini, while a background discussion seems to be with the famous DJ Symphony Sid Torin. It isn't until the fifth selection "Light Blue" that the crowd settles down, is clearly listening, and applauds. Drummer Roy Haynes is the one bandmember that is quite clearly heard, his driving playing powers the band through "Blue Monk," and the five- and one-minute romps of "Epistrophy." By the seventh track, "Friday the Thirteenth," some honest hearing of the band's work can be done, but by then it is too little, too late on this very disappointing 48-and-a-half minute CD. This is Vol. I of these dates, and hopefully, but not optimistically, Vol. II will be a better representation of what these sessions really sounded like. Some recordings should remain private, and this is one of them.

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