Sam Records Releases Thelonious Monk's "Les liaisons dangereuses 1960" For RSD 2017
Director Roger Vadim and French jazz promoter Marcel Romano, who had previously helped arrange the Miles Davis sessions for Louis Malle’s “Ascenseur pour l'échafaud” were both fans of the mercurial Thelonious Monk, whose star at the time (1958) was burning brightly.
Romano, who had befriended Monk in Paris a few years earlier, convinced him to come to Paris to compose and record new music for Vadim’s upcoming film “Les Liasons Dangereuses”.
But in October of 1958 Monk was arrested on what appeared to be bogus “drug” charges and he was unable to travel. Instead, Romano booked time on July 27th, 1959 at Nola Penthouse Studio, flying to New York with the then twenty-two year old French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen, who he was managing at the time.
At the end of June Romano brought a copy of the script marked with precise timings for each scene requiring music (back then the composer worked with a click track using grease-pencil marked film to indicate musical entries and exits) as well as a rough cut of the flim with director Vadim adding music from his record collection.
The deadline for music delivery was ‘before July 31st”. Monk finally saw the film July 24th. It was not until the early morning hours of the July 26th that Monk, prodded by his friend and patron Nica de Koenigswarter (Nica, short for Pannonica), signed the nine page contract.
Recording began the next night at Nola’s with “regulars” Charlie Rouse, Sam Jones and Art Taylor, with Barney Wilen replacing Hank Mobley at Art Blakey’s request. Of course Monk didn’t have time to compose new music for the film, nor did he pay much attention to the timings outlined in the script. Instead he played six of his tunes, familiar to all Monk fans, plus a gospel tune.
The tunes are “Rhythm-a-Ning”, “Crepuscule with Nellie”, “Pannonica” (two solo versions and one with the group), “Six in One” (a previously untitled blues improv), “Well ,You Needn’t” , “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are”, “Light Blue” and “By and By” (“We’ll Understand It Better By and By” by Charles Albert Tindley, whose song “I’ll Overcome Someday” some years later became the Civil Rights movement’s anthem known as “We Shall Overcome”).
Those familiar with these Monk compositions will notice that Monk's takes on them are different: at the same time lower key and yet somehow more frenetic. He did see the movie and understood where the music would be used and that it was background. These definitely represent a different approach to the well-known tunes. It's not as if he gave "the usual" without regard to context.
There were a total of 37 attempted takes, recorded rehearsals and false starts, all well documented in the logs and in the 48 page full sized booklet that includes great session photos and the kind of annotation and production values we’ve come to expect from both Fred Thomas of Sam Records and co-producer Zev Feldman. I was unfamiliar with Saga’s Francois Le Xuan, who was responsible for the tape transfers and mastering and who’s label will release the CD version of this set.
How the tapes remained undiscovered for decades until very recently within Marcel Romano’s archives and the entire chain of events that led up to the recording and decades later this release are contained in the booklet, which Monk fans will devour with gusto (at least this one did).
The music is divided between two records, one containing the music used in the film, the other containing outtakes as well as a 14 minute opus called “Light Blue (making of), wherein you are witness to the “birth” of the Art Taylor’s drum part. There’s also a publishing drama that involved additional music created by “Jack Murray” (A/K/A Duke Jordan) and performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers with Barney Wilen that was the only music released as the film’s soundtrack on the French Fontana label.
Thelonious Monk’s music for the film has never been released. Until now. What a great story and great musical find! And of course with the music recorded at Nola Penthouse Sound Studios, even the sound is good!
For Monk newby’s there are, of course better places to start, but this limited edition Record Store Day release is, for Monk fans a “must have”! Superb boxed set packaging, first-rate annotation and very good sound add up to a great package.