Among Thelonious Monk's brilliant musical associations, the one with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin sometimes gets overlooked. This 1958 recording catches the quartet with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Roy Haynes... more » on its home turf, New York's Five Spot Cafe. Griffin's gruffly compressed sound and high-speed, coiling lines are a fine foil for Monk's spare and pointed comping, bringing a distinct and special intensity to Monk's music. Together the group turns in classic renditions of familiar Monk tunes, including a brilliant Griffin performance of "Blue Monk." --Stuart Broomer« less
Among Thelonious Monk's brilliant musical associations, the one with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin sometimes gets overlooked. This 1958 recording catches the quartet with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Roy Haynes on its home turf, New York's Five Spot Cafe. Griffin's gruffly compressed sound and high-speed, coiling lines are a fine foil for Monk's spare and pointed comping, bringing a distinct and special intensity to Monk's music. Together the group turns in classic renditions of familiar Monk tunes, including a brilliant Griffin performance of "Blue Monk." --Stuart Broomer
"In 1958, I was 18--old enough to buy a beer. When I got to Manhattan, I'd head straight for the Five Spot (5 St. Mark's Place in the East Village). Beers were 75 cents. No cover, minimum only on weekends (it was $2). We'd try to be cool, be beat, make up poetry, but soon stopped that nonsense when Monk began to play. It was electrifying. I remember sidling up toward the piano to get closer, and Monk turning to me and saying, "Stand back, kid." Jeez. Sorry. But I loved every note. I saw that his disconnected rhythms came out of the physical way he played, arms twitching and hands jerking from side to side at unexpected moments. Now when I tell my jazz-loving friends that I saw Monk at the Five Spot, they say, "Awesome man." But to me, as a teenager, it was just wonderful art to be soaked up. This CD captures a bit of the feeling of the time and place, but you don't get the frisson, the edginess, the sense of being at an important time and place, that the actuality carried with it. Still, of course, the music is what's important. I love this CD because I might very well have been in the audience the night this was recorded, and it's a bit of my own history as well as Monk's."
The BEST of the BEST
B. Matthews | NYC, United States | 08/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own every Monk album commercially released and many others that were not, and the Five Spot recordings are my favorites of them all. Here in my opinion is the *perfect* Monk quartet. Each musician is a shining star melded into a super creative force. They KNOW this music. Griffin soars on sax, his bop chops impeccable. He knows Monk's changes inside out and wrings breathtaking surprises out of them. His playing is more Monk-ish than Rouse, Coltrane, etc. Abdul-Malik, probably the most underrated if not unknown jazz bassist, similarly makes his instrument sing here. He backs the group with drive and verve and his true-to-Monk solos are among the finest you will ever hear in a Monk group. Roy Haynes on drums is the perfect drummer for Monk--Blakey (except on the two Genius of Modern Music's) and Dunlop overpowered the music, and I love Blakey--because the always musical Roy Haynes got INSIDE with subtleties and textures that escape the others. His cymbal work is unparalled; his snare/bass drum interactions riveting, his solos creative, unexpected and thoroughly satisfying.* Thelonious's playing on this disk is awesome. His chords, his comping, his solos, his timing... everything is so right! This was recorded at a time when the tunes were fresh, with lots left to explore. There are none of the repetitive pianistic cliches Monk seemed to favor later on in his career. I could run down the tunes track by track extolling everything even measure by measure, but suffice to say that together these men were all at their peak creativity there in the Village in the late 50's, and laid down musical history on these wonderous tracks. I have listened to "In Action" and "Misterioso" (the other equally great Five Spot recording) hundreds of times and never tire of it -- the music is that superb. Let this one into your head! It demands repeated listenings. After awhile pay attention to one musician at a time and just follow him because there are *artists* at work here. In sum, buy it YOU WON'T BE DISAPPOINTED.
*late (by 7 years!) edit: Should have added this personal anecdote years ago. One night after a set at the Vanguard in the early 1960's, a young and foolish teenager saturated with Roy Haynes' impeccable percussion on the Five Spot records summoned up the courage to speak to the imposing Monk. "You should get Roy Haynes back, man. Roy Haynes is your drummer." Monk actually replied: "Roy's a good drummer" - and whirled off!"
This Monk album has it all.
Dr. Steven M. Weiss | Cincinnati, OH | 10/02/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I would include this album on any short list of "the best jazz albums of all time." This is a superb quartet, recorded superbly, with Johnny Griffin in top form on the Tenor Sax. Monk's playing is typically sardonic. The quartet's rendering of Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" includes one of the best tenor sax solos ever recorded. Outstanding!"
Another underrated gem
Dr. Steven M. Weiss | 08/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Both this and "Mysterioso"--the other half of his five spot concert-- get overlooked by fans. Johnny Griffen never got the respect he deserved when he played with Monk. Coltrane had too large a shadow. But do yourself a favor: both Five Spot CDs are loads of fun. The sax work is not as challenging as Coltrane's, sure, but Griffen's blues-based style fits nicely with the band and adds another dimension to Monk's music."
Spontaneous Monk at his best !!!
Macallan-18 | La Conner, WA | 05/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These five-spot dates, along with 'Misterioso' belong in every collection. What live recordings should be, but rarely are."