Thelonious Monk is a different kind of jazz musician. His playing style is very avant-garde, lots of banging on the piano, and lots of tension. Monk’s aggressive style gives him a unique sound that would influence future avant-garde jazz musicians and influence the musicians who would create the genre of free jazz. Monk, in my opinion, is best when he is alone. Solo albums allow Monk to be himself and his unique style is hard for others to imitate. However, on this album, Monk is collaborating with a big band. Working with a big band is the most difficult group setting you can be a part of in a jazz setting. Everyone has to be on the same page and everyone has to blend together perfectly. The harmony and unison of the big band along with Monk’s style makes this album a wonderful and unique experience.
The album begins with the track “Let’s Cool One” the big band playing the melody and Monk plays the melody directly after them in a call and response fashion. Monk solo’s directly afterwards and the big band accompanies him and make hits when appropriate. The harmony and at the same time the contrast of the big band’s playing compared to Monk’s style works together very well. After “The Cool One” things slow down with “Reflections” the melody is again played by the big band and then by Monk. Monk also accompanies the big band and plays around while the big band plays the melody.
The next record is “Rootie Tootie” which is another great Jazz standard written by Monk. The big band comes in strong and united, playing the melody with confidence and conviction. Monk accompanies the big band and then they trade places. Monk plays the melody and the big band supports him. This song is also different because he has other musicians soloing giving the song more of a combo feel, at least until the big band returns. “Just A Glance At Love” is another ballad similar to “Reflections” played in a vey similar way lots of accompaniment and a similar arrangement.
“Brilliant Corners” is one of my favorite records on this album. The arrangement is magnificent, the interaction between Monk and the big band is at an all time high, and Monk’s solo is one of his best. My favorite part of this tune is the ending the big band plays the melody faster and faster until the song reaches a frenetic pace and concludes with a resounding note. Another of my favorite records is “Trinkle Tinkle” the melody is catchy and difficult to play and not only does Monk play it well, but it’s amazing hearing the big band nail the melody perfectly and in sync with one another. The big band accompanies Monk during his solo with a beautiful melodic line, but still stays out of his way and let’s Monk be, well, Monk. There is also a horn solo which is rare on this album.
Monk’s Blues concludes with a few of Monk’s most notable tunes including: “Blue Monk”, “Straight No Chaser” and “Round Midnight”. It’s nice to hear these tunes on here since it gives some of Monk’s most known work a different perspective. Overall there is none quiet like Monk. He was eccentric and played with a style ahead of his time. This album is one of his least known, but I recommend you give it a listen. If you love big band, or love Monk this will be a nice unique blend to your collection.