Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-12-21

2012-12-21

Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk Trio (Prestige, 2001) There's a special use value to this 10-track collection, eight from 1952 with two from 1954 mixed in, which has been reissued in more iterations and titles than I can catalogue--my copy is PR-CD-7027-2 and begins with "Little Rootie Tootie," as it should, but others reshuffle the same takes. What all offer is the not so common chance to hear Monk as a solely featured soloist with a rhythm section. Moonlighting NYC cop Gary Mapp is merely functional like so many Monk bassists, although even he has to hop around to follow the razzle-dazzle child's play of "Little Rootie Tootie," and Percy Heath adds his own flourishes to the 1954 "Blue Monk," which at 7:36 is the only selection out of three-minute range. But drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach are co-stars--don't ignore Blakey's rhumba sticks on "Bye-Ya" or Roach decorating "Bemsha Swing," one of several tunes Monk rocks like one of his stride-piano idols. Monk signed with Prestige after an unwarranted arrest that cost him his cabaret card prevented him from showing off his mastery of a body of melody as fetching and mind-boggling as Gershwin's or Berlin's. And if not every original is from the top of his canon, the Russ Columbo chestnut "Sweet and Lovely" could almost be "Round Midnight"'s fraternal twin when he makes it his own. A+

Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins: Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins (Prestige, 2006) Rollins lays out on two trio numbers and tackles only one Monk tune on this five-track, 34-minute 1954 product. But that performance belongs on both guys' life list: the little-recorded closer "Friday the 13th," an indelible four-note motif Monk made up in the studio that's stated breathily by Rollins and then tossed around for 10 minutes by the principals, MJQ bassist Percy Heath, left-field drummer Willie Jones, and--adding unexpected and melodic textural chutzpah--Julius Watkins on French horn. Supported by original bebopper Tommy Potter and hard-bop stalwart Art Taylor, the Fields-Kern and Caesar-Youmans standards that open ain't Swiss cheese either. A

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