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January/February 2004

Thelonious Monk
Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia
Thelonious

It's getting more and more common to package CDs and DVDs together, not that anyone is likely to complain, since it remains hard to find outstanding performances in the latter format. In the present case, the DVD in this package features Thelonious Monk's quartet with Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales and Ben Riley in concert-not in Paris, like the CD portion, but in Oslo in 1966. This performance has been released on DVD previously but not, as far as I know, with any sort of distribution.

The quartet plays three tunes, including fine renditions of "Lulu's Back in Town" and "Blue Monk" and a somewhat perfunctory "'Round Midnight." Rouse and Monk are in good form and the rhythm team up to its usual high standard, though some may find Gales' bass solo more than long enough. Listeners who love confident, deep-toned walking won't have this problem, however.

The music on the CD is even better. You can feel the electricity on what was clearly an especially good night, from the opening "Rhythm-A-Ning" to the closing theme, "Epistrophy." Most of the program is devoted to the repertoire of originals that had by 1965 become more than familiar, though the solo version of "Body and Soul" is notable. Actually, it's fairly silly to complain about the fact that Monk tended to focus on the same couple of dozen pieces during this period, since most improvising musicians have always done the same thing. As long as the players are being inspired by the tunes to come up with new ideas on their solos, how important is it that we have heard the heads, which typically only amount to about 20% of each performance, many times before? Certainly the quartet sounds inspired on this occasion. The leader shows how well he adopted the swing approach of building solos out of riffs, and Charlie Rouse is in fine fettle. Ben Riley was a wonderful drummer for Monk; he also loved to swing hard and his solos reflect the older style of construction but with some solid new materials added.

Collectors will want to check whether they already own the earlier vinyl release of this one (Trema 710590), which also included "Sweet and Lovely." This release does not duplicate other Paris concerts released on CD by Thelonious Records. The packaging here is probably attractive enough to warrant replacing the old vinyl in any case.

Originally published in January/February 2004
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