Top Artists – Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk – The Riverside Trios

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  • This Milestone 2 LP set has outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides
  • We know of no better way to hear these legendary mono recordings – these are by far the best sounding pressings of both these albums we’ve yet to play
  • 4 1/2 stars: “When Thelonious Monk first signed with Riverside Records in 1955, producer Orrin Keepnews thought that it would be a good idea for the unrecognized giant to record an album of Duke Ellington compositions and follow it up with a set of standards so as to discount his eccentric and forbidding image. The results were quite satisfying, trio performances that made Monk’s playing seem more accessible to the regular jazz audience without watering down his style.”

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What Are Some Good General Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

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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 that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current reissue — and you unfortunately find yourself a member of that small minority of audiophiles with reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Dream

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  • A great sounding copy with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – this one was nearly as good as our Shootout Winner, hence the Nearly Triple Plus grades
  • These sides are rich, spacious, big and Tubey Magical, with virtually none of the smear on the piano that holds so many other copies back
  • Here’s proof that the sound found on these early Columbia 360 Label Stereo pressings is absolutely the right one for Monk’s music
  • 5 stars: “Although he would perform and record supported by various other musicians, the tight — almost telepathic — dimensions that these four shared has rarely been equalled in any genre… Monk’s Dream is recommended, with something for every degree of Monk enthusiast.”

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Sonny Rollins – Vol. 2 – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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 Even though this session was supposedly recorded in one day on April 14, 1957 we heard an anomaly that took us somewhat by surprise. The first and third track on side two sound amazing, better than anything on side one. However, the second track, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, has sound that is clearly a step down from anything else on the album. It’s smaller and more congested. Why that is we have no idea, but we felt it was worth pointing out.

Sonny’s horn on side two is especially big and rich, with huge amounts of Tubey Magic as befits an all-tube 1957 Blue Note recording. This is clearly the right sound for this music.

  • Side two of this stereo pressing is at least Super Hot – it’s huge, rich and tubey
  • Side one is Super Hot, musical, lively, clear and real sounding
  • Another classic late ’50s RVG recording of some of the greatest Jazz Giants who ever lived
  • “…a timeless session and a milestone in jazz history that gathered together some of the founding fathers of the post-bop era.”

Note that side one is not quite as tubey but makes up for it with energy and clarity that we found conveys the music beautifully. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Underground

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  • An incredible copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Charlie Rouse – featured on many of the tracks here – is particularly wonderful on sax. His saxophone is full-bodied and natural with breathy texture and just the right amount of honk
  • So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The instantly recognizable stride piano lines are delivered with the same urgency and precision that they possessed over two decades earlier…”

This is an outstanding Monk album from 1968. Thanks to Columbia’s state of the art engineering — still using tubes I’d wager, based on the sound – the recording really comes to life, or at least it does on a copy that sounds as good as this one does.

Monk’s piano comes through with powerful dynamics and real weight to the keys.

So many copies just sound like an old jazz record, but this one lets you feel like you are right there as the music happens. What more could you ask for?

Unlike a lot of Columbia jazz records, both the 360 originals and the early Red Label reissues can sound good on this title (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Straight, No Chaser

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  • This early 360 Stereo Columbia pressing boasts stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – relatively quiet vinyl too
  • If you want to hear just how good Monk’s big, rich piano sounds, this copy can show you like nothing by Monk you’ve heard
  • Four Stars in Allmusic, with Teo Macero producing and top Columbia engineering to ensure audiophile standard sonics
  • “Thelonious Monk’s Straight, No Chaser is the pinnacle of his recordings for Columbia Records…” — TheAudioBeat.com

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Thelonious Monk – Criss-Cross

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Jazz Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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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. (more…)

Thelonious Monk ‎– Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington on OJC

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Some OJC Pressings Sound Good, Some Don’t – This One Doesn’t

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records. (more…)

Thelonious Monk – Monk.

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  • This wonderful Black Print 360 Columbia pressing impressed us, earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or better on both sides and playing about as quietly as any stereo original we’ve found
  • Columbia records produced by Teo Macero in the early ’60s have consistently open, natural sound – this one from 1964 is no exception
  • The piano has real weight, the bass definition is wonderful, Rouse’s sax is full-bodied, and the overall sound is Columbia to a “T”: warm, sweet, and rich
  • The Thelonious Monk Quartet of 1964 is well featured on this excellent set… Easily recommended to Monk fans, this set is just further proof that he never made an unworthy recording.”

*The last track on this side gets a little crackly and plays Mint Minus Minus to EX++.

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, vintage pressings of Monk’s music have become increasingly difficult to find, and even when you can track them down, they rarely play as quietly as this one, and of course, this being a Hot Stamper, they rarely sound as good as this one. (more…)

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

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More It’s Monk’s Time

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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…)