The title of this compilation bestowed Thelonious Monk with the moniker of the "High Priest of Bop" -- and with good reason. Although these tracks have been issued under a multitude of titles, the end result yields the same potent material and performances. These cuts feature Monk (piano) leading an all-star cast through some of the most seminal platters in the bebop subgenre. Monk's quirky and off-centered rhythms are anchored and immeasurably strengthened by the support of his sidemen. The ten pieces featured here are taken from three sessions -- including Monk's first two recording dates for Prestige -- on October 15 and December 18, 1952, respectively. The personnel for the first (October 15) includes the trio of Garry Mapp (bass), Art Blakey (drums), and Monk, while the second (December 18) features Max Roach (drums). The September 1954 recordings replace Blakey with Roach and add Percy Heath (bass). Each of the performances aptly delineate Monk's uncanny ability to indelibly personalize not only his own compositions, but also the cover versions of pop standards "These Foolish Things," "Sweet & Lovely," and the achingly poignant "Just a Gigolo." Likewise, the frenetic "Bemsha Swing" is an inspired piece that reveals the combo at their funky and groovin' best. Astute listeners can also hear Monk's rhythmic vocalizations [read: grunts] throughout -- almost as if it were a fourth instrument. There is no subpar or even slightly uninspired material on The High Priest. However, present are an infinite amount of undiscovered facets on older pieces and compositions. "Reflections," for instance, is presented here in a significantly compact -- yet no less intense -- form. The charmingly descriptive "Trinkle Tinkle" is similarly replete with brilliant playing and sensitive interaction from the respective quintets. Completists will inevitably want to check out the three-disc Complete Prestige Recordings, as it is obviously more thorough.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer