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Thelonious Monk

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Album Review

Here, finally, is the first complete edition of Thelonious Monk's under-recognized classic, Underground. Recorded in 1967 and released one year later, this set features final Columbia quartet sides, some trio work, and one vocal cut with none other than Jon Hendricks on "In Walked Bud." What makes Underground remarkable as an album is the presence of four new Thelonious Monk compositions. During his tenure with Columbia and sometime before that, Monk's output as a composer had slowed. He would issue at most one new tune on each record and, to be fair, some fairly radical reworkings of his classics on others. Monk never tired of reinventing his work. But Underground saw the dawning of two major Monk compositions, the monumental "Ugly Beauty," which has been covered by countless jazzers, and the stellar blues romp "Raise Four." The tunes "Green Chimneys" and "Boo Boo's Birthday" are, in essence, quintessential Monk, but like some of his tunes, they have not been as readily covered. The classic Monk quartet members Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales, and Ben Riley were present for this monumental session in time-space harmonic rearrangements. The repetitive six-note figure at the head of "Raise Four" becomes a treatise on post-bop harmony in the middle of the cut; Monk's own sense of melodic extrapolation had grown once again, and this time exponentially. Stranger than any of his other records for the label, Underground featured more dissonance than any Monk outing ever, but it is presented as a far cry from the Young Lions of the '60s blowing the guts from their horns. The album is presented in its entirety as recorded, yet sounds completely different than the LP. The reason is that the time edits made for vinyl were removed, and on three occasions here — "Thelonious," "Boo Boo's Birthday," and "Ugly Beauty" — alternate takes round out the LP versions. In the latter two cases, these performances have never been issued before in any form. Also noteworthy is the sole performance of "Green Chimneys" here, which is five minutes longer than the version that appeared on the vinyl issue. Underground is chock-full of classic Monk moments and interplay, as between the pianist and Gales on "Raise Four," when Gales bows his bass and Monk resorts to a truncated cadence of his theme and striates a I-IV-V progression to take into account that the key change Gales is putting across is accounted for and the stroll never falters. Another stunning sequence is in the intro to A.R. Jones' "Easy Street," where Monk moves the pitch around to make room for some extra notes he's added to the original melody. Riley's brushes actually add accents to accommodate them and give the track a dancing feel. This is the way a reissue should be handled and restored. Kudos to Legacy for giving listeners more of an already brilliant recording session.


Born: 10 October 1917 in Rocky Mount, NC

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

The most important jazz musicians are the ones who are successful in creating their own original world of music with its own rules, logic, and surprises. Thelonious Monk, who was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim. In fact, one of the more remarkable aspects of Monk's music...
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