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September 2006

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings
Riverside

Take 1: The 1957 meetings of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane produced some of bop’s most thrilling music. There’s the gorgeous, glacially slow “Monk’s Mood,” with its heartbreaking piano intro followed by a sublime saxophone statement—the only track from “Thelonious Himself” that wasn’t Thelonious himself. There’s Coltrane’s vicious solo on “Nutty” that starts off at warp speed and slows to the point where you think, for a split second, that he’s going to play the melody, and then he takes off again. There’s the rarely heard “Blues for Tomorrow,” a delicious piece of straight bebop (composed by Gigi Gryce) that stands alongside the best work of any Monk group. And there are the back-to-back readings of “Ruby, My Dear”—one featuring Coltrane, the other featuring Coleman Hawkins—that could produce a doctoral dissertation comparing the tenor greats.

Take 2: In the end, The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings is a curious and confusing package. At first blush, it seems like a gem of an idea that would deliver a wonderful set of music for novice and expert alike. Unfortunately it does neither. By limiting itself to 1957, it excludes most of the music from the terrific Riverside album Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane. So it’s not for collectors, especially considering that collectors already have most of the music herein. And it’s not for casual listeners, either—how many people are going to sit through five versions of “Crepuscule With Nellie”? The only logical conclusion to draw is that Concord Music Group, which owns the Riverside imprint now, is trying to capitalize on the success of Blue Note’s recently unearthed Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane’s At Carnegie Hall. And then it all makes sense.

Originally published in September 2006
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