Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane – The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (Craft Recordings) (review)

Finally a packaging that is worthy of the phenomenal music housed within.

Touching a button on your phone and immediately getting music leaves you wanting more. It’s like going to a fancy steakhouse and just getting the steak. It’s the reason you came, right? But, it’s the potatoes, steamed vegetables and glass of wine that enhance the flavors of that steak. Streaming music is very much like that – you get the music, but where’s the liner notes, photos, front and back cover, and essays, to help elevate the music?

No record company is more aware of this fact than the newly-minted Craft Recordings, a subsidiary of Concord Music, run by veteran Sig Sigworth (who’s held titles at great labels like Rhino and IRS). Their maiden release is one sure to turn heads – Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane – The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings, a 3-LP set, which comes cleverly housed in a package that replicates an expanding file folder with postage information on the outer cover. Your friends may think you’ve been given some sort of super-important document (and, they’d be right!).

The music contained herein is some of the most important in all of jazz. For a few short months in mid-1957,  two pillars of the genre chose to work together. Outside of a few live recordings, this is all that remains of that monumental pairing. Both artists were in different points in their career; Monk was already an established star, having recorded several albums for Riverside, while Coltrane was the understudy, still trying to find his footing after being bounced from Miles Davis’ band.

The 180-gram vinyl LP’s are  immaculately pressed and surprisingly quiet – it’s one of the highest quality record pressings I’ve seen in a long time. The fidelity is superb, reproducing warm bass and crisp high end with no roll off. And, there seems to be a depth to the vinyl that wasn’t present, even in the CD issue (which came out in 2006).

Each of the three discs come housed in a heavy-grade inner sleeve that features more photos from this iconic pairing. In fact, the entire graphic presentation, with heavy emphasis on deep reds and blacks, make for an impressive packaging.

In addition, the large accompanying booklet features an excellent essay from original producer Orrin Keepnews, who was present during these sessions and debunks several of the myths that have grown over the years. He is surprisingly candid about the circumstances which brought these two giants together. The three LP’s and booklet all fit into individual slots in the “file folder” – a novel packaging idea I’ve never seen used before.

This music was deemed so important, that six of the original tracks (released in 1961 as Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane on Jazzland Records), were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame back in 2007.

The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings is the kind of set that you’ll want to share with friends – not over the Internet, but, the old fashioned way, live and in person.

A very impressive set that furthers the case for the return to physical music. —Tony Peters