By 1958, Thelonious Monk was a fixture on the New York club scene, thanks to his legendary 1957 engagement at the Five Spot. Piano, tenor, bass and drums became Monk's favored mode of instrumentation throughout the '60s, when he surfed the crest of his popularity as a major artist (cover of Time magazine), on a major label (Columbia), with some underrated bands. Recorded live at the Five Spot, the quartet on THELONIOUS IN ACTION (and MISTERIOSO) ranks with his greatest working aggregations, allowing Monk to fully explore the orchestral dimensions of jazz within a small band context.
The hard-swinging tenor giant Johnny Griffin was a key contributor. Like his soulmate Dexter Gordon, Griffin managed to traverse the differing approaches of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Charlie Parker, combining them into a coherent style with the brawny blues power of Chicago tenor men such as Gene Ammons. With his fervent technique, magisterial sound, opulent harmonic command and keen sense of humor, Griffin's unbridled melodic inventions were a continual source of inspiration to Monk.
"Light Blue" is just that, an elegant, jaunty little dance, while "Coming On The Hudson," with its enigmatic head and dissonant bridge, points to the future directions of Monk's spiritual son, Cecil Taylor. On a remarkable version of "Rhythm-A-Ning" bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik's burly sound and open harmonic conception keep things in motion, as Griffin soars above it all with intricate rhythmic lines. Monk's stabbing little phrases are an antidote to Griffin's complexity, as he works his way into a stride-flavored harmonic cycle before allowing his inventions to melt into Malik's charging lines and fiercely melodic drum solo.
And on "Evidence" the drummer is clearly inspired by the tune's rhythmic stops and starts; at times his phrasing suggests Monk's contrasting thematic motifs or the rhythmic counterpunches of brass and reed sections. Griffin begins at full throttle, seemingly enunciating every chordal nuance--he temporarily releases the pressure gauge with demure references to "Skip To My Lou" and the tune's antecedent, "Just You, Just Me"--while Monk's terse response suggests guitar phrasing.
Thelonious Monk Quartet: Thelonious Monk (piano); Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone); Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass); Roy Haynes (drums).
01 Light Blue
02 Coming on the Hudson
04 Epistrophy - (theme)
05 Blue Monk
07 Epistrophy - (theme)
08 Unidentified Solo Piano
09 Blues Five Spot
10 In Walked Bud / Epistrophy - (theme)