Thelonious Monk – Misterioso (review)

Thelonious Monk Quartet – Misterioso (Riverside / Concord Music Group – remaster) review
The reissue of Misterioso takes you back to the now defunct Five Spot Cafe in the Bowery neighborhood New York City. It’s the summer of 1958. There is no cover charge and a beer is only 75 cents. Thelonious Monk is in his second residency at the Five Spot. The stage is cramped and the audience sits mere feet from the band. You can hear glasses clicking against one another. You can hear the audience talking. Monk’s eccentric piano style is in full force with no lack of the dynamic use of dissonance and aggressive attack that made him legend. The band is completed with Roy Haynes on drums, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Johnny Griffin on tenor sax. Griffin is definitely the wild card on this album. “I got it, I got it!” he shouts, before taking his solos and you get lost, riding his energy, stomping along with him as he fires off an inspired flurry of notes.

On “Blues Five Spot,” the only new composition on the album, Griffin’s solo contains lightning-fast passages and surprising changes. He isn’t shy about changing it up and taking the listener into unexpected territory – managing to throw in a “Pop-eye the Sailor-Man” quote for good measure. On “In Walked Bud,” Monk’s solo journeys through contemplative passages, to abrupt cascades of notes, and a few phrases that bring the Monk classic “Well You Needn’t” to mind before returning to the head. An added treat is drummer Art Blakey who joins Monk on the bonus track “Medley.” It’s a  nearly 12 minute long jaunt through “Bye-Ya” and “Epistrophy” featuring vigorous improvisations and fantastic interplay.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe the recording is over half a century old. It’s lively, raw, and transparent. You don’t need much of an imagination to see Monk jerking around and slamming his hands into the keys. You are there.   – Kyle Jones