At Carnegie Hall – Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
Blue Note Records 0946 3 35173 2 5
It must have been exhilarating last year for the Library of Congress archivist Larry Applbaum, when he went through his daily ritual of digging through and cataloging musty old acetates inside their historic sound collection and coming across a group of boxes labeled “Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957. T. Monk.” What he unearthed is a phenomenal recording of two sets by the quartet that Thelonious Monk fronted with John Coltrane as the lone horn player and the tight rhythm section of Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and the mysterious Shadow Wilson on drums captured at Carnegie Hall on November 29, 1957 for the radio show, Voice of America.
The recording catches the band at its peak after a remarkable nine month residency at Manhattan’s legendary Five Spot – especially Coltrane who had finally become accustomed to playing Monk’s unorthodox compositions. In numerous interviews during the time Coltrane expressed how challenging it was for him to learn Monk’s music, which was filled with odd time signatures, rhythms and transitions. The opening number, "Monk's Mood" not only introduces us to the beautiful acoustics of Carnegie Hall, but also to a confident Coltrane who barrels through the middle section of the song with some stellar phrases over Monk’s characteristic arpeggios.
Throughout both sets, especially during "Nutty," "Bye-Ya," and the only cover on the album, "Sweet and Lovely" we are able to listen to a band that in a matter of months was able to converse harmonically with one another on a extremely complex level, which makes this concert truly special. This is by no means the quintessential album for either Monk or Trane, but it does represent a great moment in the history of jazz. For Monk, this band was a major turning point in his career, because it not only got him back playing in clubs after having his cabaret card taken away for six years, but he was also able to play his music in this historic venue giving his unique compositions and the rebellious music known as jazz further credibility in the fine arts.