Jazz CD Reviews

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959) – Keepnews Collection, Riverside/Concord Records

The first of the live concerts expanding Monk's potent music to a ten-piece band

Published on October 1, 2007

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959) – Keepnews Collection, Riverside/Concord Records
The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959) – Keepnews Collection, Riverside/Concord Records RCD-30190, 75:36 *****:

(Thelonious Monk, piano; Jay McAllister, tuba; Robert Northern, French horn; Eddie Bert, trombone; Donald Byrd, trumpet; Pepper Adams, baritone sax; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Phil Woods, alto sax; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums)

Monk’s highly individual musical creations have a rich density about them which seems to go way beyond the bounds of his solo piano or his quartet.  I hear it as having a similar quality built into it as the music of Bach and the Beatles – it can easily stand enlargement into much greater musical forces without losing its impact, and maybe even gaining some.  Monk had the same idea and had been talking to his friend Jules Columby about it. In 1958 it began to happen as noted composer/pianist/arranger/ teacher (in both jazz and classical) Hall Overton was brought in on the project.

This concert, recorded live, was the exciting result. Producer Orrin Keepnews reveals in the note booklet how dicey the live recording really was. They only had one portable Ampex recorder and Monk started one number without waiting for them to change reels when the tape had run out.  We’re very lucky that it was one of the early stereo recorders, because the stereodisc had only come on the scene the year before, and most of the jazz labels were still recording in mono at this time – Prestige, for example, continued for some time.

Overton’s transcriptions don’t try to give the tunes a standard big band treatment at all.  They preserve Monk’s quirky voicings and harmonic ideas, merely expanding the ideas to ten players instead of just one or four. Overton only completed six arrangements for the full band, and that’s all there was room for on the original Riverside LP.  However, before the band came out, the Monk Quartet with Charlie Rouse played three numbers, and now those are included at the end of this disc.  I thought I had the original LP but couldn’t locate it; however I’m fairly certain this latest 24-bit-processed reissue at least equals if not surpasses the original vinyl. Sonics are very clean and forward-sounding.  The whole thing was encored again in l963 – this time at Philharmonic Hall. Overton again did the arrangements, and this time they were on seven additional Monk originals and benefitted from some things he had learned about orchestrating the quirky music for the ten-piece band.  That entire live concert is on a Columbia/Legacy double-CD (C2K 57636) which includes quartet selections as well. It don’t think it’s better, just a bit different. Monk fans will surely want to have both.

TrackList: Thelonious, Friday the 13th, Monk’s Mood, Little Rootie Tootie, Off Minor, Crepuscule with Nellie, Little Rootie Tootie (encore), In Walked Bud, Blue Monk, Rhythm-A-Ning

 - John Henry




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