Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane

Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane

Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane

Drug addiction brought John Coltrane’s first historic stint with Miles Davis to an end, so it was the impossibly enigmatic piano genius Thelonious Monk who offered Trane a way forward after getting clean in 1957. Monk’s harmonic mazes stimulated Coltrane’s imagination and dovetailed with his own ambitious explorations on tenor sax. An extended quartet gig with Monk at the Five Spot gave Coltrane the creative stability he needed, and enormous musical growth ensued. Some of the live material is documented (with poor fidelity) on Discovery! Live at the Five Spot, but in 2005 the long-lost and excellent-sounding At Carnegie Hall emerged, shedding a whole new light on the Monk-Coltrane partnership.
Apart from that, Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane is just about the only other item to showcase this pairing of jazz giants. Compiled in 1961, the tracks fall into two categories: “Ruby, My Dear,” “Trinkle, Tinkle,” and “Nutty” feature Coltrane and Monk in a quartet setting (with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson), stretching out much as they might at the Five Spot. “Off Minor” and “Epistrophy” are alternate takes from the June 1957 sessions that yielded the classic Monk’s Music, which found Coltrane in a septet with other horn players (and Art Blakey on drums). Interestingly, Coleman Hawkins plays “Ruby, My Dear” as a ballad feature on Monk’s Music, so Coltrane’s version here offers a historically significant contrast.
Both the extended solo piano blues “Functional” and the reissue bonus track “Monk’s Mood” are from the April 1957 Thelonious Himself sessions, and it’s “Monk’s Mood" on which Coltrane appears, with just Ware on bass and no drummer. This is easily one of Monk’s most arresting ballads, and here it takes on the rare and intimate glow of a chamber piece.

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