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Album Review

Criss-Cross was Thelonious Monk's first recording for Columbia. His quartet at the time consisted of Charles Rouse, Frankie Dunlop, and John Ore. Legacy's deluxe reissue is a case in point for the high standards they've set in caring for Columbia's jazz catalog. Here are the original nine tracks — plus three bonus cuts (both alternate takes), two of which are completely unreleased. In addition there is a wonderful set of liner notes by renowned Monkist Dick Katz and a slew of amazing photographs from the sessions. Packaging aside, the music found here is hotly debated by critics as one of two choices for Monk's best recording for the label. It is his first record for the label, and he decided to issue a set of his own compositions, all of which had been recorded previously (there are two standards on the set) but never in this hard-swinging, light-touch way. Monk's dissonance is tempered here by a sprightly accent on light, quick rhythm so that "Crepescule With Nellie" and "Tea for Two," which was a Monk mainstay during those years, are taken at brighter paces. Improvisationally everything was relegated to melodic construction, and while none of this music is inside, it doesn't have the percussive left-hand heaviness of other, earlier versions of tunes such as "Hackensack," "Eronel," or "Rhythm-a-Ning." In sum, Criss-Cross is one of Monk's finest; it may not have had the crash-and-burn fast-forward aesthetic of Underground — his last album for the label, with a different rhythm section — but it did possess its freshness and willingness to not only reinvent himself as a composer and improviser but to re-envision himself as a jazz statesman instead of its terminal, most famous outsider. Criss-Cross is rife with pride in the craft of its execution and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Customer Reviews

Extremely fresh and precise playing by all involved here

In short, Criss-Cross (1963) is a highly realized album of Monk material that I think any jazz-minded individual would appreciate. If you're not tapping your foot as you listen, then something must be wrong.


Born: October 10, 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 was that it was fully formed by 1947 and he saw no need...
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