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Straight No Chaser (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Album Review

This disc pulls double duty as both a motion picture soundtrack as well as a great primer on the multi-faceted Thelonious Monk. Although the 1988 documentary covers Monk's entire life, a healthy portion of the film centers on some amazing footage circa late 1967 and early 1968 from Michael Blackwood and sibling Christian Blackwood, who produced a documentary that aired only once on West German television. Although much of the footage incorporates this era, the soundtrack — both in the film as well as on this disc — offers a wide spectrum of previously unissued performances. Two of the disc's most intriguing tracks — "Pannonica" and "Lulu's Back in Town" — are Monk solos dating back from the late summer of 1956. They were donated to the project by none other than the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Monk's patron and friend since 1954. "Pannonica" is of particular note, as this may be the earliest known recording. It is beautiful in its accidental regency. The flourishes take on more portents and the chord progressions that normally sound difficult sound impossible here. The studio sessions are among Monk's last with this quartet. They include the title track and a rehearsal and final take of "Ugly Beauty" dating back to the 1968 Straight, No Chaser recordings. These are documented in the film as well, where there is likewise a more graphic example of the stymied "mutual incomprehension" that would ultimately plague the relationship between Monk and his producer Teo Macero. The 1967 European tour tracks — "Epistrophy," "Evidence," and "I Mean You" are at the literal as well as figurative center of this disc. The musical crosstalk between Monk and Charlie Rouse (tenor sax) is vividly captured. Straight, No Chaser: Thelonious Monk is a fine primer as well as audio documentary. [Some reissues add a studio take of "Straight, No Chaser" as a bonus track.]


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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