"Monk's Dream" IMPEX Reissue Makes The Most of Master Tape

Yes, yet another Thelonious Monk reissue review. What can I tell you? Love that Monk. Criss-Cross with the same quartet (and in serious need of a reissue) was the second jazz record I ever bought and it made an even bigger impression than Coltrane's My Favorite Things, which was my first.

Monk rocked and Charlie Rouse had such a punk attitude (but it would be unfair to not mention that drummer Frankie Dunlop could make his toms a punch line). The two of them just killed me then and still do now. This was Monk's Columbia debut issued in 1963. Like Criss-Cross, the album consists almost entirely of previously recorded Monk compositions issued on Prestige and Riverside, this time recorded at the legendary 30th Street Studios and distributed as only a major label at the time could manage.

So even though there's little ground broken here, it presented Monk with an opportunity to be heard by a wider audience, though this kind of jazz wasn't going to appeal to the general population no matter how well packaged or distributed.

When I walked into a Delancey Street record store in the early '60s and asked for a jazz record recommendation the guy, whose face I can still see, pulled out that Coltrane record. He said to me "You know the song "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music?" I said "yes." He said, "listen to what Coltrane does with it and if you can follow it you'll understand jazz."

It took a while before the break where Coltrane "goes off" didn't sound scary but eventually I got it. if you want to 'get' Monk, listen to how he carves up the three standards on this album, especially "Just a Gigolo" on side two.

Perhaps 21st century ears will find nothing all that odd here, but back then mainstreamers found the notes Monk hit "wrong" and dissonant and the spaces between theme wrongly timed. Of course nothing was further from the truth!

Not that Monk needed endorsements, but the back cover has enthusiastic ones from Willis Conover, Ralph J. Gleason, Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams and producer Teo Macero that sum up the uniqueness of both his compositions and his playing. Both are immediately recognizable.

If this record doesn't get your feet tapping and your head nodding (and not as in "out"!) I'm not sure what would.

The 30th Street recording is closely miked and not in the KOB style. Mostly Monk has the left channel to himself, Rouse and bassit John Ore have center stage and Dunlop has the right channel. So this is not a naturally staged event. The recording trades natural space for honest tonality and incredible immediacy and excellent dynamics. Where Monk solos on the standards he gets a big spread across the stage almost taken from his keyboard perspective.

Some speculate that the switch from tubed to solid-state electronics occurred when Columbia's label went from black "360 Sound" to white "360 Sound" but that's just speculation. In any case, the original pressing has a warmer backdrop and a more expressive reverberant field, but at the expense of transient clarity and overall immediacy.

One could make an equally good case for either the original's or the reissue's superiority and that's about where great reissues should reside. Attempting to duplicate the original shouldn't necessarily be the goal in my opinion. Here the transparency, immediacy and transient clarity surpass that of the original and without losing any of the original's more attractive qualities. The reissue is surely lower in distortion on the dynamic peaks and the blacker backgrounds heighten the instrumental relief. On the other hand, the original has more space around the instruments, especially the drum kit and Ore's bass is more prominent.

A great reissue and very highly recommended unless you're "Monked out," though is that really possible? If you have no Monk albums, this would be a good place to start.

Music Direct Buy It Now

decameron's picture

Michael, This is a re-issue of the 1963 stereo pressing CS 8765. Have you had an opportunity to compare this re-issue with the 1963 mono pressing CL1965? Thanks.


worldofsteve's picture

it's great "analog" takes the time to review the reason we all get involved in this crazy hobby, any chance the concept of "If you have no Monk albums, this would be a good place to start" be extended to other Jazz artists? I know I spent some money and time on stinkers over the years.