Posts Tagged ‘Easy Street

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

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