The Thelonious Monk Guide

He recorded the same songs over and over and never wore them out.

Criss-Cross
[1963, Columbia]

My friends prefer the pianist's Columbia debut, Monk's Dream, but I've always thought this a fine document of Monk's long-running quartet with devoted tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore, and drummer Frankie Dunlop. By this time Monk is essentially mining his own songbook and introducing little new material. In so many small but significant ways, Rouse got Monk's intent—dig the funny honks with which he punctuates "Hackensack."

Live at the It Club: Complete
[1964 (1982), Columbia]

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    More About

    The CD reissue added three tracks and extended the nine others to their unedited length. The result is a faithful picture of the texture, pace, and ambience of Monk at his popular peak, in performance. Drummer Ben Riley lends a fresh yet well-meshed feel to the rhythms.

    Solo Monk
    [1964, Columbia]

    You wouldn't regret springing for the double-disc Monk Alone: The Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings, 1962–1968—there's no such thing as too much solo Monk, and each take enlightens. But beginning with a stride-inflected take on "Dinah," this album generates a life-affirming, start-to-finish joy and completeness of its own.

    Underground
    [1969, Columbia]

    It's best known for the Grammy- winning cover art—Monk at the piano surrounded by a basement full of French-resistance artifacts—but I bought it for a buck in college in a plain white album case. The LP was significant for its previously unrecorded tunes, such as "Ugly Beauty" and "Boo Boo's Birthday." The CD reissue, which dispenses with Teo Macero's mastering and studio edits, elevates this to one of Monk's best Columbia dates.

    The London Collection, Volumes 1–3
    [1971, Black Lion]

    Monk's final recordings—solo takes, and trio sessions with Blakey and bassist Al McKibbon—find him still toying inventively with his compositions, still radiating a singular joie de vivre. His music was always punctuated with silences; after this, until his death in 1982, the silence ruled.

    Dud:Monk's Blues
    [1968, Columbia]

    Oliver Nelson's arrangements scrub the skronk out of Monk's harmonies. And the pianist sounds less than pleased ruminating over two Teo Macero tunes.

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