Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at the Carnegie Hall

On November 29, 1957, two jazz giants—Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane—joined forces at the Carnegie Hall for a concert recording that made history. Stylistically, Monk’s angularity and Trane’s virtuosity did not seem to fit, but the two were hand in glove when they gigged together. Monk’s disruptive chops made Trane’s flows more fluid. In reverse, Trane’s smooth tones added sensual details to Monk’s fractured sounds. Together the two geniuses had created an opposite attraction with their irresistible harmonies.

At the Carnegie Hall featured both shows from the Thanksgiving Jazz event in 1957, and eight out of nine performances were Monk’s signature compositions including “Monk’s Mood,” “Evidence” and “Epistrophy.” Monk was a man of his own world in both music and life. His music was too different and too hard to understand. Yet, Trane, an eccentric man himself, was able to tap into Monk’s mind. As a result, they were speaking the same language. “Blue Monk” is a perfect illustration that shows the two communicated to each other in an astonishing level. The tenor and the piano were brilliantly completing each other’s sentences on the first chorus before Trane immerged himself into his tireless, rapid-fire improvisation. After Trane, Monk gave a mind-blowing solo with his downward-scale technique, staccato style, and exquisite alter chord.

If I have to pick a title track for this album, it would be “Sweet and Lovely,” which appropriately describes the prosperous collaboration between Monk and Trane, and their performance was exactly what the title had suggested. Monk kicked off the standard ballad with his idiosyncratic solo in a mild rhythm section provided by Shadow Wilson’s soft brushstrokes and Ahmed Abdul-Malik’s thumping pizzicatos. Trane took over the bridge and his restless phrasing entered as the tempo picked up. Trane blew like he could go on forever without needing to take a breath while Monk dropped exotic keys in the background to complement his man. Not only this particular piece, but also every performance was filled with vivid colors, splendid textures and endless imaginations.

Although the recording was made almost fifty years ago, the sound is clear and the music is still fresh. Big up to Larry Appelbaum, the recording lab supervisor at Library of Congress, for discovering this rare gem. It is definitely a timeless work of art, especially for the jazz cognoscenti.

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