31 AUG 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
When you open The Very Best Of Thelonious Monk, new in Concord Music Group's 2012 Very Best Of compilation series, listen to the last song first. Begin with its unaccompanied, solitary reverie "'Round Midnight," a timeless melody even more haunting in Monk's intuitive performance. If you listen to only one Thelonious Monk performance in your life, make it this one.
But why listen to only one? Monk appeared on 20 different Prestige and Riverside records between 1955 and '61, and in this span worked with three of the most foundational drummers in modern jazz -- Max Roach, Art Blakey and Roy Haynes -- plus saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, and many other historic musicians. This new compilation captures many of their best moments.
I'm a fan of Monk's blues playing, and among many who consider him a stride/blues pianist at heart, so I'm delighted this set begins with "Blue Monk," the funkiest (thanks to Blakey) of many funky Monk blues. While it probably sounds funny, I just love hearing Monk yell out "Coltrane!" to tell him to solo in "Well, You Needn't." Speaking of saxophonists, could anyone sing the ballad "Ruby, My Dear" more beautifully than Coleman Hawkins does here?
Monk could also colorfully inhabit other peoples' music, like this trio version of "Sophisticated Lady" from his landmark Thelonious Monk Plays The Music of Duke Ellington. But every song on this collection is a stone in its monument to some of the most innovative blues and jazz in history.