For jazz fans 2018 has been unexpectedly fruitful. Aside from some incredible contemporary music – particularly from the UK, there’s been the discovery of the lost John Coltrane album Both Directions At Once, recorded back in 1963 during Coltrane’s classic quartet period. Now it’s legendary pianist/ composer/ bandleader Thelonius Monk’s turn – and from the same year. Apparently found in a dumpster and lovingly restored, this is a live recording from Copenhagen in 1963 with a band including Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, John Ore on double bass, and Frankie Dunlop on drums. The previous year he had released Monk’s Dream with the same trio of musicians and they bring “Monk’s Dream” and “Bye-Ya,” from this recording and playfully extend upon them in the live setting. There are two standards, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and “Body Soul,” as well as “Nutty” a tune Monk had previously released with Coltrane in 1961 on their joint album.
Whilst you couldn’t really call this a lost album, it is a significant recording as it’s an opportunity to hear a band at the height of their powers. The set was originally recorded by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and it sounds incredible. The fidelity is almost studio quality. There’s a real relaxed feel to proceedings, which highlights Monk’s peculiar clipped idiosyncratic style. The solos are truly unique – no one has ever quite come close to Monk’s near mathematical technical skills combined with his blues like inflection – perhaps best highlighted by the solo piece “Body Soul.”
Fifty five years later this is more than a curiosity, it’s an opportunity to experience one of the icons of jazz in a live setting. Sure his tunes swing, but there’s so much complexity in his playing, and it’s fascinating to hear his tunes extended embellished and elongated by a band that have truly enmeshed into his artistic vision.