Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins

Thelonious Monk

Monk's two-year stint on the Prestige label during the early '50s is easily the most underrated phase of his career. His collaborations with Rollins are a beguiling blend of two unmistakable, sharply contrasting sonic signatures: Monk's brittle, jauntily fractured pianism and Rollins 'plush and roving stentorian tenor. Rollins takes the lead on the two standards "I Want To Be Happy" and Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight," in which the trademark buoyancy of the tenor's dip-and-canter phrases on the latter track are broken only briefly by Monk's stride-oriented solo. But on an extended version of Monk's "Friday the 13th," Rollins hews to the pianist's more judicious, idiosyncratic sway to great effect. Monk's own solos here are fascinating and multifaceted, and his comping and harmonic shading behind Rollins and Julius Watkins (on French horn) is inspired navigation.

Despite the fruitful pairing of these two giants, the most durable gems here might be the two trio performances sans Rollins, "Work" and "Nutty," which reveal the essence of Monk's refractive phrases and perfectly positioned asides, which create something akin to a Cubist approach to melody without sacrificing blues roots or the capacity to swing. Percy Heath's probing tone and walking bass line have the organizational prowess of a maitre d 'on "Nutty" and the sensitive, innovative accompaniment of Art Blakey is a revelation throughout the disc. Although best known for the hard bop of his Jazz Messengers, Blakey had an acute understanding of the textures, harmonies and rhythms Monk was after. He was for Monk what Dannie Richmond was for Mingus, and Elvin Jones was for Coltrane — a great, enabling foil in the drummer's chair.