In 1961, Thelonious Monk and his quartet toured Europe, producing a series of live albums for various labels. The First European Concert, as well as recordings of Monk in Paris, Italy, Bern, Copenhagen, and Stockholm all date from that year. The performances drew almost exclusively from a body of the pianist's best-loved original material, and Monk in France is no exception. While his playing here is less energized than it can be, Monk's singular philosophy is well intact. The pianist's lines are sparse and fluid. Characteristically, he maps out only the necessary notes in his off-kilter melodies, building solos from perfectly balanced melodic/rhythmic motifs. The European touring lineup is completed by drummer Frankie Dunlop, bassist John Ore, and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Rouse had joined Monk two years earlier, replacing Johnny Griffin on 1959's Evidence. He has a vibrant tone and fluid rhythmic sense best heard here on "I Mean You." Monk's responding solo seems slightly reserved, the fire and weight of his attack largely absent. The remaining two-thirds of the rhythm section, while accomplished, do little to drive him in that direction. Performing solo, Monk's reading of the standards "Body and Soul" and "Just a Gigolo" are two highlights. The former features the sort of ornate playing uncharacteristic of the date. Monk spins off dense lines that take many listens to untangle. The latter is given a brief rendition tinged with ringing dissonance. The 1960s would see Monk signing to Columbia Records, where he would release another string of excellent recordings like Monk's Dream, Criss Cross, and Solo Monk. Monk in France represents a pleasant but unessential sidetrack in the pianist's output.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush