Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mulligan meets Monk... Old friends...







Thelonious Monk went into the recording studio with Gerry Mulligan in 1957. On the face of it – an odd pairing. Yet - there are connections. One can hear the swing roots in Monk more clearly with hindsight – which chime with those of Mulligan - they were both aware of earlier developments in jazz and these flowed into their playing. And despite his cool school West Coast breakout in the early fifties, the baritone saxist had participated in the New York scene in the forties – check out his involvement with the 'Birth of the Cool' sessions headed up by Miles. He was also an old friend of Monk, so recording together was not such a strange manoeuvre – maybe the partial neglect of this album has something to do with that rather facile identification of Mulligan with the 'Cool School.' Yet this pairing was clever, I feel – and there is a relaxed, good-natured feeling to the session. Mulligan adapts his playing to Monk pretty well...

'Round Midnight' is a Monk warhorse - with plenty of spring in its step on the evidence of this reading. They open together, Mulligan playing obbligato to Monk's introduction before Mulligan takes the theme – its dark brown hues suited to the baritone's timbre – while the piano is busy alternating between crisply struck chords and those off-kilter runs he was so fond of. Solo baritone – bluesy and coming off the melody in the manner that Monk always wanted from his musicians – rather than frantically running the changes. (Except those who could play fast and still keep to the spirit of the music: Johnny Griffin and, of course, John Coltrane). A thoughtful solo that reminded me of Charlie Rouse in places, Monk's long-time tenor man. Piano solo: Monk sounds sharp, pungent dissonances crushed into the line which, in places, is almost rhapsodic by his usual minimalist standards (Monk could play more fulsomely when he wanted to...). Mulligan comes back to see the track out...

'Straight no chaser' – a brief intro then the blues theme taken at a firm medium trot. Accents banged out in the lower register of the piano – one chorus then straight into the improvising. Mulligan opening out, backed by the the piano for a chorus before Monk falls away. Now the bass and drums can be heard more clearly – Ware is a firm-fingered veteran and Shadow Wilson an underrated drummer – mainly cymbals here to let the bass through. Mulligan plays solid blues – launching into some nice double time in places. Ware takes a solo over lightly swooshing cymbal until the drums stop to leave him double stopping and executing some fleet lines. Monk – entering percussive and trebly with a classic blues riff which is then disrupted, some gloriously gnarled, scampering phrases. He goes into the theme – Mulligan playing a little back, almost hesitantly until the final chorus when he steps up to take it out over a low register piano unison.

Here's some more Monk on video – shot in Paris in 1966


Thelonious Monk/Gerry Mulligan

(Thelonious Monk: piano; Gerry Mulligan: Baritone Saxophone; Wilbur Ware: bass; Shadow Wilson: drums).

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Round Midnight


Straight no chaser


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4 comments:

St Anthony said...

I do like this album (actually, must replace it on CD)- as you say, they suit each other very well, Monk and Mulligan. Mulligan could always make the unwieldy baritone swing, and he really takes to these tunes. You can always tell a Monk piece, like Coleman's. Good readings of both, here. I like the version of 'Straight, No Chaser' a lot.
I always liked Monk's sound, that percussive technique. The enigmatic Monk - the bebopper whose work I like the most.

St Anthony said...

Nice film of Monk performing, too. I always like seeing footage of him, there's a lovely wryness to him.
'Epistrophy' is probably my favourite Monk tune.

Molly Bloom said...

Anthony got very excited about the 'Epistrophy' track. I enjoyed the two tracks you put down too. I thought that the first track was quite soft and ethereal. These have been my favourite jazz tracks so far. I'm always fascinated to see Monk on the piano. Absolutely fascinating.

St Anthony said...

They don't make them like Monk anymore - and in my notion of the Platonic original of all bands, his bum would definitely be parked on the pianist's stool (actually that's given me an idea for a post).