"It's Monk's Time"—Speakers Corner Reissues Columbia Records Monk Classic

A few months ago my friend and fellow Stereophile writer (not to mention Pulitzer Prize winner, author of a new book "Insurgents" about General Patraeus, etc.) Fred Kaplan and I were lamenting the absence of reissues of Thelonious Monk's Columbia catalog.

While it's true that Monk's glory days were behind him and his albums on Blue Note and Riverside present Monk at maximum creative power, the albums he later recorded for Columbia were still nothing short of sensational and featured superb Columbia 30th Street Studios sonics. Plus it can be argued that in tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, Monk had the perfect foil for his musical antics and over the top rhythmic agility.

Now we have this album and from IMPEX Monk's Dream. Prayers answered!

Monk's Dream, his first for Columbia issued in 1963 featured what was unquestionably his best quartet. This one from 1964 features a new rhythm section of Ben Riley on drums and Butch Warren on bass, along with Rouse, and if you hear this one first you'll wonder how it could get any better.

Even though this was issued but a year after his debut, Columbia issued four albums between his first and this one for the label. One was a studio album—and a great one— Criss-Cross that I hope someone reissues soon, while the others were live recordings.

This one contains six tunes—three originals and three covers of standards. One of the originals the album closing "Shuffle Boil" is simply a rehashing of a Monk standard but whatever Monk plays on record tends to be worthy as this one is.

The recording is somewhat hard right/left, particularly the opener "Lulu's Back In Town" where Monk's set up on the left channel and opens with a long solo that will have you thinking maybe somethings wrong with your right channel. But once everyone joins in, Rouse and Warren are center stage and Riley is on the right (stage-left). There's a nice amount of 30th street ambience to fill in the blanks.

This is as close as jazz comes to rock'n'roll in my opinion: it's muscular, straight to the point (within the bounds of Monk's rhythmic madness/genius) and gets the toe tapping and the blood flowing. I don't think jazz offers more fun listening than Monk.

Speakers Corner's reissue is a bit sharper than the original black "360 Sound" original (SC uses the later white "360 sound" label) and Willem Makkee's cut is a bit hotter and on side two goes out almost to the label, but the Pallas vinyl is super-quiet and transients are commendably fast and clean without sounding strident.

The original is a bit more relaxed and spacious but which sounds better would be system dependent. A very nice job and for Monk fans and those wanting a way in, easy to recommend. (There's also a $15.00 "Columbia" reissue but I bet it's cut from a digital source).

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hishou's picture

Thanks for the review. Will the IMPEX release get a review as well. I was listening to the digital version of this album, and noticed the hard panning as well. (especially since i'm listening with headphones). 2 things I'd like to ask:

1) The solo on Lulu's Back in Town is on the right channel on the digital version. Is that normal or has there been an inversion in the digital version (or on the Speaker's Corner)?

2) Would the mono version of this album released then be a different mix or would it be a fold down?


Kevin Ray's picture

The Columbia albums are my favorite Monk.

davidmreyes77's picture

I will pick it up. I really have liked most Speakers Corner reissues I've heard so far.

Jim Tavegia's picture

The first track just sound goofy with just one channel.  I first thought my amp had died.

I am sorry the recording quality is as poor as it is. Monk's piano surely could sound better even with a pair of SM 57's I would think. I think the mastering and disc cutting is as good as it can be. INHO