When the quartet featured on MISTERIOSO was burning up the Five Spot back in 1958, they came under attack from fickle fans and critics, seemingly for no other reason than that they weren't the 1957 model (featuring John Coltrane, Wilbur Ware and Shadow Wilson). But the wit, wonder and vigorous interplay of this quartet enlivens these performances to such a degree, it's impossible to discern what the big deal was about. This is an amazing band.
Listening to tenor virtuoso Johnny Griffin on "Blues Five Spot," it's clear that for him Monk's music was almost second nature. Like fellow tenor giant Sonny Rollins, Griffin understood the rhythmic impetus behind Monk's melodies, and his penchant for witty interpolations allowed him to work a ditty such as "The Sailor's Hornpipe" into the conclusion of his unaccompanied chorus. Also, if you listen to how he and Monk reprise the head (and introduce "Let's Cool One"), you'll note the saxophonist's ability to voice his lines in such a way as to suggest different saxophone ranges, and even multiple horns when playing in unison with the pianist.
Which leads to an epic level of collective call-and-response throughout MISTERIOSO. The multi-leveled "Let's Cool One" has a main theme and an equally important counter-line, and during their collective improvisation, Griffin and Monk manage to maintain this antiphonal balance of preacher and congregation. Even when the band drops away for another solo Griffin break, the counter-lines and cross-rhythms keep going in the listener's mind until Monk returns with fresh abstractions and a hint of stride. Of the remaining performances, "In Walked Bud" and the title tune generate the most collective heat. On the former, the pianist counters Griffin's own Monkisms with sly rhythmic abstractions of the tune's main thematic accents, which Haynes echoes in his solo. And on "Misterioso," Monk's trademark blues, the pianist's stark harmonic juxtapositions preclude any hint of cliched postures, as he and Griffin dig down deep into this timeless form.
Thelonious Monk Quartet: Thelonious Monk (piano); Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone); Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass); Roy Haynes (drums).
02 Blues Five Spot
03 Let's Cool One
04 In Walked Bud
05 Just a Gigolo
07 'Round Midnight - (bonus track)
08 Evidence - (bonus track)