Although nostalgia has allowed Monk's Blues to age more gracefully than perhaps the recording deserves, it remains an unfortunate fact that Thelonious Sphere Monk's final studio sessions were very poorly conceived. The idea of Monk performing with a big band was inspired nobly enough by the February '59 NYC Town Hall performance which was issued as Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. These studio recordings fall far short of that classic live encounter. However there are a few brief moments of inspiration that are not overcome by random blasts from an over driven hollow sounding horn section. The challenge of arranging Monk for big band instrumentation fell upon Oliver Nelson, whose best remembered works include an array of television theme songs -- Ironside, Columbo and the Six Million Dollar Man among them. Many of the same techniques are likewise incorporated into the approach Nelson uses on Monk Blues. Perhaps it is cosmically fitting that the sessions were held at Columbia studios in tinsel town. There are a few write offs. "Rootie Tootie" is destroyed by an overwrought brass section which completely drowns Monk. "Consecutive Seconds" -- one of the two compositions penned by producer Teo Macero -- is simply abysmal. If this was an attempt to get Monk to play soul music it failed. It does succeed in sounding embarrassingly dated however. Thelonious' genius shines through on some of the more sensible and sensitive arrangements such as "Reflections", "Monk's Point" and the surprisingly tasteful "Brilliant Corners. The 1994 CD edition adds two performances not featured on the vinyl incarnation. "Blue Monk" features a stirring solo from Thelonious. "'Round Midnight" is a previously unissued solo side cut at the Monk's Blues sessions. The sheer brilliance in Monk's emotive and seemingly frustrated intonations may well be an exorcism for the sins of the rest of the album.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer