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Thelonious Monk: Monk ‘Round the World

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This is the second CD-and-DVD set to be released is this nicely priced series, and it’s just as exciting as its predecessor. The CD consists of seven performances from five different concerts recorded between 1961 and 1964. Saxophonist Charlie Rouse was the constant during this period. Frankie Dunlap and Ben Riley are heard on drums, while bass duties are handled by John Ore, Butch Warren and Larry Gales. Exactly why these bits and pieces of concerts, instead of one whole performance, was assembled is unclear, but the resulting program is certainly rewarding. If the notes don’t explain this point they are nonetheless good reading, divided between producer Joel Dorn and basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Not only does the latter demonstrate that his reputation as a jazz fan is not empty hype, he writes about the music better than many scribes who do it regularly. Listeners without a great deal of experience with ’60s Monk will enjoy the overall consistency of the various versions of the quartet heard here, while those who know the Columbia recordings of the period will enjoy hearing the variations that Monk and Rouse brought to the themes they worked repeatedly.

The DVD captures the group with Gales and Riley in fine form in London in ’65. They lead off with “Rhythm-a-Ning,” which always brings out the swing in Monk the soloist, who time and again builds long lines from little repeated figures, not to mention Gales and Riley, who drive things along for all they’re worth. There may have been more innovative drummers and bassists around at the time but how many could match these guys for sheer swing? Rouse is a delight here, mixing lots of things you don’t usually hear him doing with his more familiar devices. He shows how well he adhered to his leader’s admonition to solo with reference to the melody and not just the changes. Monk himself seems somewhat subdued at the beginning, sitting as still as a statue during Gales’ solo on the opening track, but he loosens up as things progress, allowing the briefest of smiles at the conclusion.