'Monk plays Ellington' was never rated as one of Thelonious's great albums. Yet I have always had a fancy for it, if only for the fascination of hearing one great pianist/composer take on another's work. This is 'I got it bad and that ain't good.' Monk leads in solo, stretching phrases to their breaking point, using almost unbearable periods of silence with the placement of a master. Suddenly bouncing off in a jaunty ride, joined by bass and the subtle tick of Kenny Clarke's drums. Pettiford solos, showing his class. Monk again, staying close to the melody – then suddenly dropping off into another space with an oblique turn, a rush of notes, a crunching chord. Thelonious in his heyday, sounding as if he was enjoying himself.
Mal Waldron is of the line of Monk – a minimalist vision at times, using space to great effect. Here, he is joined by Marion Brown for a slow, elegaic version of 'My Funny Valentine.' Piano starts off, allowing the air to blow through both melody and chords, holding back the beat, using repeated figures for emphasis. Late night feel, perhaps, but thoughtful rather than brooding, Just over three minutes in, Brown enters, holding the mood with keening long notes, harking back to an older tradition, saxophonic pyrotechnics stripped right back. At the end, Waldron rips out chords for the alto to pirouette through in an elegant coda.
Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost duet on 'Knowledge is power,' from a 1997 session. A long track that uncurls at its own speed, lazily snake-like with the occasional lash of the tail to snap the dynamics up a few notches. Opening on mysterious sonorities and scrapings, a fluttery sax like an early morning bird call. Prevost moves into more conventional percussive territory with some hammered toms. Parker worries a phrase across the registers. Moving from busy back into freer space, utilising a wide range of sounds between them, Parker getting so much out of his saxophone in between the usual long lines of circular breathing, at one point approximating a muted trumpet. They go into a more jazzy feel as the track progresses – at its back I hear Coltrane's sax/drums workouts, but Parker always acknowledged the influence – and proceeded over the years to fully work out his unique strategies rather than remain a copyist. This goes long because it has to...
Donald Byrd and band play 'Beale Street,' not the W.C. Handy piece but a choppy funky composition of its time – out of 'Sidewinder' etc. Hank Mobley blows a couple of choruses then Sonny Red takes some – playing with texture and sonorities, sounding bluesy. Byrd next, high up the range, spurred on by front line riffs. Cedar Walton comes in for a brief piano interlude. An odd mix of funk and bop, nothing particularly earth-moving, perhaps, but a snapshot of the trumpeter's working band from 1967, under the stamp of Blue Note...
Thelonious Monk (p) Oscar Pettiford (b) Kenny Clarke (d)
I got it bad and that ain't good
Mal Waldron (p) Marion Brown (as)
My Funny Valentine
Evan Parker (ss) Eddie Prévost (d, perc)
Knowledge is power
Donald Byrd (tp) Sonny Red (as) Hank Mobley (ts) Cedar Walton (p) Walter Booker (b) Billy Higgins (d)