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Published: 2003/11/28
by Brian Ferdman

Monk In Paris: Live at the Olympia – Thelonius Monk

Thelonius Records 9316

Throughout the history of popular music there have been leaders and there
have been followers. There have also been a few unique individuals who have
turned the music world on its ear with a series of feats that could never be
duplicated. One of these trailblazing individuals was pianist Thelonious

Utilizing the most unorthodox of techniques, Monk was roundly criticized
from his early childhood. As he grew older and began to compose sparse
songs in odd meters, the criticism intensified. None of this deterred Monk,
as he soldiered on for 20 years in obscurity until his unparalleled genius
was finally accepted by the mainstream.

By the mid 1960s, Monk was at last playing quality gigs for appreciative
audiences. On March 7, 1965 his solid quartet of Charlie Rouse on tenor
saxophone, Larry Gales on bass, and Ben Riley on drums was firing in high
gear for an enthusiastic Parisian crowd at The Olympia. Visiting
compositions that have since become classics, Monk displayed tremendous
genius by dropping in his trademark dissonance in the strangest of places
while still making his weird clusters of notes sound completely natural.

This was surely a hot night for the quartet, as they came racing out of the
gate with a driving force on "Rhythm-a-Ning." From the start, Rouses
smooth sax collided perfectly with Monk’s staccato, providing an odd mesh of
styles that fit perfectly with the chugging rhythm section of Gales and
Riley. While Monk was capable of turning the world on its ear with his
obtuse phrasing, he was also able to gently massage the keys for more
traditional turns on tunes, such as his solo renditions of "Body & Soul" and
a short but crowd-pleasing version of "April in Paris." As fine as each
song may be on this album, every track is dwarfed by the soaring version of
"Well You Neednt." Clocking in at just over 12 minutes, Monk and company
flew through an odyssey of epic proportions. Rouse soloed with aplomb,
aided by Monk’s bizarre counterpoint accompaniment before Riley erupted into
a drum solo that stretched the boundaries of musical dynamics.

Accompanying this fantastic live album is a bonus DVD entitled You
Haven’t Heard Monk Until You’ve Seen Him. Recorded for Norwegian
television on April 15, 1966 in what looks like an open room in an Oslo
museum, the same quartet performed a slightly mellower but nonetheless
captivating set. Encompassing only three songs, the DVD certainly lives up
to its namesake, shedding light on Monk’s idiosyncratic virtuosity. The
viewer is able to closely observe his peculiar methods of crossover piano
playing, Monk’s incessant need to readjust his grossly oversized pinky-ring,
his metronome-like shuffling foot, and his odd predisposition to lay out and
stand to observe Rouse’s mellifluous soloing. Moreover, by watching the
pianist at work, one realizes that his true brilliance was not in what he
chose to play but rather in what he chose not to play. Refusing to barrel
through with heavy-handed rhythms when comping, Monk preferred to rest and
then utilize strange figures to compliment the melody. You Haven’t Heard
Monk Until You’ve Seen Him showcases Thelonious Monk’s uncanny ability
to place sparse notes and odd chords in positions that perfectly accent
everything within the composition at hand.

Monk In Paris: Live At The Olympia features excellent sound that
serves the fine performances from this concert. This release is the first
product from a new partnership between Thelonious Records and HYENA, a
relationship that is guaranteed to open the vast Thelonious Monk archives to
the eager listening public. If Monk In Paris: Live at The Olympia is
only the tip of the iceberg, jazz fans should be in for several live treats
from Mr. Monk in the years to come.

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