Monk's Dream

Monk's Dream

Monk’s unique compositional genius flowered in the 1940s and early 1950s, but his improvisational peak came later. By the time he jumped to the jazz big leagues, Columbia Records in the early 1960s, he’d established himself as one of bop’s great composers, but his songwriting pace had slowed. Instead, he focused on presenting his music and on the rapport of his working quartet, which had been a unit for two full years when he brought them to record his exemplary Columbia debut in the fall of 1962. In that combo, featuring the earthy yet always game Charlie Rouse on tenor sax and the lively drummer Frankie Dunlop, Monk had found a suitable match for his demanding compositions and oddball improvisations. The recognizable repertoire and somewhat formulaic approach were greeted by some as disappointing; the only new composition, the vibrant “Bright Mississippi,” was a not-too-cleverly disguised reinvention of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” But Monk was clearly comfortable in his surroundings and secure in his talent, and his playing here is assertive, carefree, and probing, whether miraculously deconstructing standards for cock-eyed solo piano (“Just a Gigolo”) or revisiting one of his own curious creations (the title track, “Blue Bolivar Blues,” “Bye-Ya”). Monk’s Dream, perhaps the album most representative of his distinctive gifts, boils his music down to its essence.

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