Thelonious Monk – Criss-Cross

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  • This wonderful pressing of Thelonious Monk’s second studio album has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from ’63 is no exception
  • The piano sounds amazing here — natural and dynamic, letting Monk’s passionate playing shine
  • 4 stars: “Thelonious Monk’s second album for Columbia Records features some of the finest work that Monk ever did in the studio with his ’60s trio and quartet … This is prime Monk for any degree of listener.”

I wish more Blue Note records had this kind of sound — natural, full-bodied, and sweet up top. The bass here is well-defined with real weight and lots of punch. Monk’s piano sounds correct from the highest notes all the way down to the lower register, and the sax sounds tonally right on the money. The clarity and transparency are superb throughout.

This Columbia 360 pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Criss-Cross have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1963
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Piano Is Key

The copies of the album with a piano that sounded lean or hard always ended up having problems with the other instruments as well. (This should not be surprising; the piano was designed to be the single instrument most capable of reproducing the sound of an entire orchestra.)

If you have big, full-range speakers one of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano is WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl and five gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But a few — a very few — copies survive all such hazards. They manage to capture these wonderful musical performances on vinyl, showing us the sound we never expected to hear.

What We’re Listening For on Criss-Cross

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hackensack 
Tea for Two 
Criss-Cross 
Eronel

Side Two

Rhythm-a-ning 
Don’t Blame Me 
Think of One 
Crepuscule With Nellie

AMG 4 Star Rave Review

Criss-Cross — Thelonious Monk’s second album for Columbia Records — features some of the finest work that Monk ever did in the studio with his ’60s trio and quartet. Whether revisiting pop standards or reinventing Monk’s own classic compositions, Monk and Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), John Ore (bass), and Frankie Dunlop (drums) exchange powerful musical ideas, as well as provide potent solos throughout the disc.

Fittingly, “Hackensack” — a frenetic original composition — opens the disc by demonstrating the bandleader’s strength in a quartet environment. The solid rhythmic support of the trio unfetters Monk into unleashing endless cascades of percussive inflections and intoxicating chord progressions. The title cut also reflects the ability of the four musicians to maintain melodic intricacies that are at times so exigent it seems cruel that Monk would have expected a musician of any caliber to pull them off…

This is prime Monk for any degree of listener.