Top Artists – Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time – Getting the Balance Right

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of It’s Monk’s Time.

There are three main elements that comprise the sound of It’s Monk’s Time: piano, sax and drums. You need all three to be balanced and correct. The mix is perfection on the best copies, with the piano, sax and drums clearly audible and in musically correct proportion to each other. 

As we played the sides we noted how each of them fared.

PIANO. Clear, present and lively. Very high-rez.

SAX. Smooth, rich and tubey, with no RVG squawk to be found.

DRUMS (and BASS). Big drums in a big room. Listen to how solid that kick is. The standup bass is tight and note-like.

Surprisingly side two sounded just like side one. We could find no fault with it. It doesn’t happen very often but it happened on this copy. (more…)

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? (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk. – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Both sides of this copy have STUNNINGLY GOOD SOUND! We were absolutely FLOORED by how natural and lifelike this record sounded. The piano has real weight, the bass definition is wonderful, the brass is full-bodied, and the overall sound is warm, sweet, and rich. I would be SHOCKED if there’s a copy out there that could beat this one — it’s a monster. 

We’re big Monk fans here at Better Records and we wish we could get more records like this up on the site. Unfortunately, clean Monk pressings have become incredibly difficult to find — and even when you can track them down, they sure don’t usually sound like this! (more…)

Thelonious Monk – In Person

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In Person

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  • In Person makes its Hot Stamper debut with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all four sides
  • Unusually rich, full-bodied, lively and present sound which brings out the best in this music
  • Features incomparable jazz greats Donald Byrd and Joe Gordon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The first half of In Person contains the pianist/composer’s famous Town Hall concert of 1959… The second half of this two-fer finds Monk leading a strong sextet with trumpeter Joe Gordon and tenors Rouse and Harold Land live…”

The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be. There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep the inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your audiophile hopes on a current reissue — and you have reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Blues – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

WONDERFUL BIG BAND MUSIC, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, and QUIET VINYL! 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 JUST RIGHT — totally free of the “RVG squawk” we often hear on old Blue Notes. The clarity and transparency are superb throughout.   (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

Full, rich, spacious, BIG and PRESENT, with almost no smear. This is Classic Columbia 360 Label sound from their legendary 30th Street studios. 

You may notice that very few Monk records go up on the site. We do occasionally find copies with Hot Stampers, but most of those sell directly to our best customers. We hope to be putting more up as time goes on. However, finding clean Monk with good sound is not as easy as it sounds (unless you are willing to pay the big bucks). We do have this one to offer, for those of you who prize adventurous jazz.

Side One

A++, with big bass that’s tight and full-bodied. The sound of Rouse’s tenor is right on the money too (no RVG squawk, that’s for sure!) (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Big Band and Quartet – The Glorious Sound of Tubes – 1963 Tubes, That Is

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

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

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. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso

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  • Monk’s live 1958 release makes its Hot Stamper debut, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness – just the right sound for this masterful quartet
  • Recorded live at the Five Spot Cafe in New York City, the energy here is palpable – according to Orrin Keepnews, Monk “played more distinctly here than on his studio albums in response to the audience’s enthusiasm during the performance”
  • 5 stars: “[The quartet’s] overwhelming and instinctual capacities directly contribute to the powerful swingin’ and cohesive sound they could continually reinvent.”

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Thelonious Monk – Criss-Cross – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

WONDERFUL MUSIC, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, and QUIET VINYL! 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 JUST RIGHT — totally free of the RVG squawk. ’The clarity and transparency are superb throughout. AMG raves about the album and calls it prime Monk for any degree of listener and we couldn’t agree more.   (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Straight, No Chaser

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

Side two of this 360 pressing from 1967 is nearly White Hot — what a recording! If you want to hear just how good Monk’s great big rich piano sounds, look no further. 

Rudy Van Gelder, eat your heart out. This is the piano sound Rudy never quite managed. Some say it’s the crappy workhorse piano he had set up in his studio. Others say it was just poorly miked. Rather than speculating on something we know little about (good pianos and the their miking) let’s just say that Columbia had the piano, the room and the mics to do it right as you can easily hear on this very record. (more…)