Thelonious Monk,
Discovery! Live at the Five Spot
(Capitol, 1993)

In the spirit of completism that most jazz labels exhibit, many an oddity has been unearthed. Lost recordings by old masters, alternate takes, obscure band lineups -- it's a veritable candy store for the aficionado. But often, such lost works are, well, kind of hard to listen to.

Just as often though, music is unearthed that provides a window into music history and also is just plain fun. Case in point: Thelonious Monk's Discovery! Live at the Five Spot.

Recorded sometime in 1957 by John Coltrane's first wife, Juanita, on a portable tape recorder with a single microphone, it's not a high-quality artifact. But under the tape noise and poor sound, there's a truly sparkling performance here that serves to illuminate a previously dark corner of jazz history.

Monk spent five months in 1957 playing New York's legendary Five Spot and, until the release of these tracks, none of it was ever known to have been recorded.

And for some of that time, Coltrane was playing tenor sax with him. Coltrane had just left Miles Davis' group under acrimonious circumstances and was in the process of getting himself off heroin.

His playing here is evidence of his physical and spiritual turnaround -- it's fervent and impassioned. Through many of his solos, especially on "I Mean You," he toys with his signature "sheets of sound" technique, playing double-time and faster, firing off fast clumps of notes over each chord.

And Monk's playing is as brilliant as ever, exhibiting his revolutionary sense of rhythm and harmony.

No one could take advantage of playing the "wrong" note as well as Monk. His playing, both in themes and solos, always takes unexpected turns. Here, he's at his best on Monk standards "Epistrophy" and "In Walked Bud."

Monk has always been an eccentric figure in jazz history, and not much is known about this brief, dark period in Coltrane's life, between his days with Davis and the formation of his own band. So to get a window into all of this, and shed a new ray of light on these two titans of jazz, it's worth all the tape hiss -- and then some.

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]

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