Thelonious Monk – Big Band and Quartet – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

An amazingly well-recorded Big Band Concert from 1963, and these White Hot sides make the case like nothing you have ever heard. Our early pressing here is so rich, Tubey Magical, spacious and lively we simply could not fault the sound. Monk alternates between a 10 piece Big Band and his standard quartet, with magical results. 

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are comparing in our shootout fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. In this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about.

I could have tried to pick some nits, but when a record is so clearly superior to its competition, what’s the point?

Side One

The right sound — HUGE, rich, tubey and clear. No need to pick nits. This side is so HTF – Hard To Fault – that we simply have to call it MTS – Master Tape Sound.

Side Two

Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Spacious and open and yet so Tubey Magical.

Tubes

On this record, more than most, the tubes potentially make all the difference.

Now keep in mind that we are referring specifically to 1963 tubes, not the stuff that engineers are using today to make “tube-mastered” records. Today’s modern records barely hint at the Tubey Magical sound of a record like this, if our experience with hundreds of them is any guide. We, unlike so many of the audiophile reviewers of today, have a very hard time taking any of the new pressings seriously. We think our position is pretty clear, and we have yet to hear more than a stray record or two that would make us want to change our minds.

If you’ve ever heard a pressing that sounds as good as this one you know there hasn’t been a record manufactured in the last forty years that has this kind of sound. Right, wrong or otherwise, this sound is simply not part of the modern world we live in. If you want to be transported back to Philharmonic Hall in New York circa 1963, you will need a record like this to do it.

Skip the Mono

Stick with stereo on this title; the mono we played was a disaster and not worth anybody’s time (scratch that: any audiophile’s time). If you see one for a buck at a garage sale, pick it up for the music, and then be on the lookout for a nice stereo original to enjoy for the sound.

Skip This One Too

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall on Riverside (1959). Never heard a good one. Same arranger, Hal Overton, but much poorer sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I Mean You
Evidence 
(When It’s) Darkness on the Delta

Side Two

Oska T.
Played Twice 
Four in One 
Epistrophy

AMG Review

This is one of pianist-composer Thelonious Monk’s greatest recordings and represents a high point in his career. Performing at Philharmonic Hall in New York, Monk is heard taking an unaccompanied solo on “Darkness on the Delta” and jamming with his quartet (which had Charlie Rouse on tenor, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Frank Dunlop) on a fine version of “Played Twice”… Most remarkable is “Four in One,” which after one of Monk’s happiest (and very rhythmic) solos features the orchestra playing a Hal Overton transcription of a complex and rather exuberant Monk solo taken from his original record.