Thelonious Monk: Alone in San Francisco

Jazz genius entertains listeners as he entertains himself

Having finely gained fame as a pianist with his recordings on Riverside, Monk took this 1959 timeout from leading group dates to lay down an album of solo sides. Recorded in San Francisco’s resonant Fugazi Hall (a spot popular with the Beats, and more recently home to the long-running Beach Blanket Babylon), Monk revisited several of his own classics, as well as several standards. The pianist seems relaxed and playful, entertaining himself as much as playing for the record’s eventual audience. Coming off sessions with Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Griffin, and others, Monk takes time to explore the tunes, running through varied interpretations of key phrases and indulging his idiosyncratic approach to tempo.

“Ruby My Dear” sounds as if it’s played on a music box cranked by a listener whose love of certain passages causes the intensity and tempo to increase. Monk stretches the piano’s dynamics from tender to nearly showy romanticism, exercising both the fluidity with which its notes can be strung together and the percussive ability of its hammers. He lets chords hang in the recording hall’s reverberant air, listening as his own playing surrounded him. This rendition of “Blue Monk” may be the best of the many versions he recorded, while several other titles were one-offs, including the original “Round Lights” and the 1929 standard “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie.” An earlier take of the latter is included as a bonus track. Concord’s latest reissue of this Riverside title was newly remastered in 24-bits by Joe Tarnatino. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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