Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners

Recorded in late 1956 and released on the Riverside label early the following year, Brilliant Corners is, indeed, a brilliant album by the great Thelonious Monk.  It has amazing compositions, a fantastic roster of musicians, and the composer/pianist at the peak of his powers.

All five tracks are standouts, with four originals, the closing "Bemsha Swing" was co-written with drummer Denzil Best, and the fantastic solo spotlight for Monk being the stadard "I Surrender Dear."

The title track is memorable for its opening theme statement, the jagged lines from the masterful tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and the tightness of the band, including altoist Ernie Henry, a little-known player, and the legendary Oscar Peterson on bass and incomparable drummer Max Roach.

"Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are" is, aside from its well-known idiosyncratic title, another classic melody shaped in a relaxed and uplifting blues format.  Rollins really gets the opportunity to show why he was a powerhouse in that mid to late Fifties era.

"Pannonica" opens with Monk playing a celeste, which just happened to be in the studio and it gives a distinctive touch to the tune, which has another remarkable theme statement to set up the soloists.

"I Surrender Dear" features the leader in all of his glory as an utterly unique pianist and working his magic with a maudlin theme before the band, joined by the excellent trumpeter Clark Terry, and Miles Davis' youthful, powerful bassist Paul Chambers replacing Pettiford, puts it all together with the staggering "Bemsha Swing," where Rollins again blows the mind, as does Monk.

There are many great Thelonious Monk recordings from the early Blue Note years on down, but Brilliant Corners might be the peak because all the elements of great songwriting and masterful playing are demonstrated at every turn.

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