Larry Appelbaum, the recording lab supervisor at the Library of Congress, came across this tape by accident while transferring the library's tape archive to digital. What a find. Forget the Five Spot recording that sounds like it was recorded inside of a tunnel from the far end. The sound here is wonderfully present and contemporary. More importantly, this band -- which also included drummer Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik -- had it right on November 29, 1957, at Carnegie Hall. The John Coltrane on this date is far more assured than he had been four months earlier on the Five Spot date and on the initial Prestige side Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. He'd been with Monk for four months and had absorbed his complex, multivalent musical system completely. It's clear from the opening track, "Monk's Mood," where the pair play in duet, that Coltrane is confident and moving into his own. Monk feels that confidence with his nearly Baroque entrance on the tune. This is a hard-swinging band with two front-line players who know how to get the best from one another. Coltrane knows the music inside out and his solos reflect an early version of his sheets of sound methodology. Check the joyous "Crepuscule with Nellie" for the hard evidence. Coltrane's cue and Monk's arpeggios are wondrous, swinging, and full of fire and joy. Trane's fills on the melody that leads into his solo are simply revelatory, and the solo itself is brilliant. Or check Wilson's cymbal work on "Nutty" before the band kicks it in full force. Even on the knottiest of Monk's tunes, "Epistrophy," Trane shines and takes charge of his instrument while being utterly receptive to the continual shape-shifting Monk put into his compositions in a live setting. There are nine tunes here (an incomplete version of "Epistrophy" finishes the set) taken from early and late performances. These 51 minutes of music leave the Live at the Five Spot date in the dust. This is one of those "historic" recordings that becomes an instant classic and is one of the truly great finds in jazz lore. It documents a fine band with its members at the peak of their powers together. The package also contains voluminous liner notes by the likes of Ira Gitler, Amiri Baraka, Ashley Khan, Stanley Crouch, and others. This is a must-have.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek