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The two-CD set entitled, “Thelonious Monk: Live at the It
Club – Complete” is an important 1998 reissue, digitally
remastered on the Columbia/Legacy label. Apart from the fact
that it captures Monk (1917-1982) at the height of his fame
over a two-night period during 1964, this set of 19 total
tracks contains three numbers which weren’t included in
the original 1982 record. In addition, 11 other tracks have
been restored to their full length. They were previously cut
in order to fit on the LPs. The result is a generous helping of
prime “Thelonious Monk,” lasting more than two and one-half
hours, with great recorded sound.

Monk is considered to be one of the most important
composers in Jazz history, along with icons such as
Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. He was an extremely
influential force in the then-nascent Bebop movement
during the 1940’s, helping to shape the form, and continued
to be an important figure 20 years later, when this set was
recorded.

His piano style was his own and typically characterized by
angular melodies and pungent, dissonant harmonies. These
were coupled with an unerring rhythmic sense that frequently
featured sharp “jabs” of chords, rendered in a “jagged” style.
Monk’s vamping during other musician’s solos was very
economical, often emphasizing the space between the chords.

These traits are fully in evidence here. His band consisted
of six-year veteran Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, and
more recent members Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on
drums. The rhythmic sense of this unit never faltered, and
their sense of “swing” was superb. With few exceptions,
all of the songs featured solos from Rouse, Monk, Gales and
Riley, in that order, with the performing forces diminishing
from four to one in each number. This was fine, except that
after a while the predictability in these structures became a
bit inevitable. Also, as I’ve often found to be the case, the
intonation of the bassist, in this case Gales, was often
dubious. I’ve rarely heard bass solos in a Jazz combo where
the pitch was “spot-on.” Is it just me? Why isn’t this issue
addressed more often?

At any rate, these were still quite memorable. Charlie Rouse
proved to be the ideal horn player for Monk, and these two
appeared to be a near-ideal match.

A booklet with new notes by noted Jazz critic Bob Blumenthal
is included, and I must again mention the superb quality of the
20-bit digital remastering. The club ambience can truly be felt.
This set is highly recommended, and is essential listening for
Monk aficionados.