Thelonious Monk - It's Monk's Time
Recorded in January, February, and March of 1964
Audio CD: August 19, 2003
Original Release Date: August 19, 2003
Number of Discs: 1 Format: Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered
Bitrate: 256 kbps
In 1964, it had been about a year since Thelonious Monk had entered the studio, and suddenly due to an appearance on the cover of Time Magazine, he was a celebrity of sorts. Around the time of the magazine appearance, Monk and his working quartet ( Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, Butch Warren on bass and Ben Riley on drums ) entered the studio to record what would become "It's Monk's Time". An odd mix of unrecorded and underrecorded originals and standards, it is one of the most unique albums in Monk's catalog.
The three originals Monk tackled for this are among the least well known of his songbook-- two of these pieces ( "Brake's Sake" and "Shuffle Boil" ) had been previously recorded on a session led by alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce which Monk served as a sideman for, but the third ( "Stuffy Turkey" ) was never recorded before. Curiously enough, this was the only time these three were recorded. All three are somewhat odd, even for Monk pieces, and all three receive inspired readings. "Stuffy Turkey" features a straight descending theme stated by Rouse and echoed by Monk, before Rouse moves into a really well constructed solo based by-and-large on theme variation. "Brake's Sake" features a rhythmically straggering and difficult theme before turning to solos by all four members of the quartet-- Monk in particular is brilliant, but Riley steals the show with an unpredictable drum solo that recalls the phrasing technique of the leader. "Shuffle Boil" is perhaps the most unique of all the pieces-- the theme statement chirps in the extreme upper register of the tenor sax, then repeats in a more comfortable middle register. This extreme of playing ( accomplished it is believed through false fingerings taught to Rouse by Monk ) is certainly intriguing, and after this remarkable display, Rouse takes a fantastic if somewhat conventional solo. This is followed by equally inspired solos by Monk and Riley.
Of the standards, "Lulu's Back in Town" features the most intriguing arrangement-- opening with a stride piano intro by Monk, it eventually moves into a fairly straight arrangement ( and features a superb and intelligent solo by Rouse ) before dropping into another solo piano section by Monk where the leader is as advanced, fractured, and intriguing. "Memories of You" is performed as a solo piano feature, and finds Monk in an odd mood, more reflective of his style than actually embracing it-- stride and Ellington influences come through, and Monk's own sound feels like just another influence on the performance. Likewise his solo piano take on "Nice Work if You Can Get It" ( a piece Monk revisited time and again in his career ) finds Monk sounding little like himself, again embracing a stride and to a greater extent ragtime sound with the Monkisms just one more bit in the perculator.
This reissue is augmented by three bonus tracks-- a take of one of Monk's oldest pieces and his traditional set closer "Epistrophy" and alternate takes of "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and "Shuffle Boil". While "Epistrophy" was commonly performed live, it received only one previous studio reading for Blue Note in 1948, so its inclusion is a nice surprise. Monk states the theme first on piano with his stride influences coming forth before being joined by the rest of the band. Rouse and Monk exhibit near psychic interaction as Rouse takes apart and puts back together the piece, using the full range of his horn before turning over to a brief ( but stunning ) solo by the leader. The alternate takes are intereting, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" has a bit more of a lilt to it then the used master, and "Shuffle Boil" receives a far briefer presentation. Both are interesting but ultimately I prefer the issued master in both cases. The material has all been remastered and like the rest of the Columbia remasters, it sounds superb ( avoid the older issues with the purplish/blue borders, they didn't sound nearly as good ) and reprints the original liner notes essay as well as including a pair of essays by pianist Dick Katz reflecting on the recording session and the music.
It seems the unusual material served as inspirational for Monk and his band, and certainly the uniqueness of this record does not hurt the frequency of which I listen to it. It's not quite the best Monk's done, but it may be the most unique in his catalog. Highly recommended. ~ Michael Stack
Charlie Rouse-tenor saxophone
Thelonious Monk - It's Monk's Time tracks:
01 Lulu's Back In Town 9:57
02 Memories Of You 6:07
03 Stuffy Turkey 8:13
04 Brake's Sake 12:27
05 Nice Work If You Can Get It (Take 3) ) 4:17
06 Shuffle Boil (Retake) 7:09
07 Epistrophy (Take 1) 5:06
08 Nice Work If You Can Get It (Take 2) 4:11
09 Shuffle Boil (Take 5)
[ All are Album Version ]