Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonius Monk
This is not the first time Monk's only record with Blakey's Jazz Messengers has been reissued, but this CD includes "new" music. The discovery of alternate takes of "Evidence," "Blue Monk," and "I Mean You" adds 20 minutes to the catalogue of Monk with Blakey, his ideal drummer. In "Evidence," the alternate take opens with three bars of desultory piano rather than the crisp drum introduction of the familiar version, the tempo is slower and the ensemble playing is sloppy. For those reasons, the original choice was the right one. Nonetheless, the solos are in a league with those on the other take.
Much the same is true of "Blue Monk" and "I Mean You." There is virtually no difference in tempos or execution between the alternate takes and the ones originally issued, except for a couple of fluffs by trumpeter Bill Hardman in the final two bars of each alternate. If anything, Hardman's solo on the alternate of the blues is even more eccentric and interesting than on the original. Whether in new versions or old, Monk's solos here are among the most vivid recorded examples of his perfect time and his don't-fill-in-the-blanks approach to soloing. His three choruses on "In Walked Bud," amount to a case study in thematic improvisation. Anyone who thinks polyrhythmic drumming began with Elvin Jones should concentrate on Blakey's understated time-play behind Monk during that solo. Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin is superb throughout. Bassist Spanky DeBrest is a model of sturdy timekeeping and, in "Blue Monk," a good soloist. This was a fine and underrated edition of the Messengers.
This reissue has two sets of liner notes, each informative in its own way: Nat Hentoff's recent reminiscences about Monk and Blakey, and the late Martin Williams' 1957 notes, one of his most penetrating analytical essays. Rhino deserves congratulations for care and attention to detail in sound and packaging in its series of Atlantic reissues. This is a prime example.