Thelonious Monk Quartet: With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Oh, to be hip in 1957. Nov. 29 at Carnegie Hall: on a bill with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins and more, a truly special collaboration occurred. To witness the meeting of the minds, Monk and Coltrane, is the forgotten trip of the wayback machine. A fantastic two sets are presented on this Blue Note release that has sonority to it that only modern gadgetry can recreate.

The disc is split between the early and late shows, both with (almost) entirely different sets. Both are approached differently, as one might expect, but have such an awesome harmonic color to them that could only be created by such singular musicians. Beginning with “Monk’s Mood” from the early show, the set has an audible electricity in the quartet. You can almost hear Monk nodding to Coltrane and vice versa; the lines are crisp and deliberate, as the two snake around each other. Solos are delivered efficiently and with endlessly imaginative taste. The five cut set ends with a very upbeat, extended “Epistrophy,” which comes in later, interestingly enough.

The late show is more relaxed, as is typical. “Sweet And Lovely” and “Blue Monk” are lengthened and explored, but strangely, the second set has few out-and-out solos—the focus seems to be on creating a unison of sound between the players. The lyricism of Coltrane shines brightly on the late show and the interplay is certainly different from the first half of the disc. “Epistrophy” shows up again at the end; but it fades out abruptly, most likely due to running out of tape.

This is the sound—the knit but free style of live performance—that Miles Davis would end up putting in stone with Kind Of Blue. This album may well stand up with it in the annals of free jazz history. A highly recommended and must-have release.

In A Word: Necessary