Thelonious Monk – Palais des Beaux-Arts 1963
(Tidal Waves Music. TWM55. Album review by Liam Noble)
Sometimes I wake up and think I’ll buy a microscope.
I’ll set it up in the same place every day at the same time and look.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this repertoire, this band, live and in the studio. It’s so original, as if he re-recorded it endlessly to fill the hole where other people doing things this good was. He did this many, many times, never feeling the need to reinvent himself. His Instagram story might have been the same thing copied and pasted every day, but copied by hand and pasted with brushes made from the manes of unicorns. Everything is nearly the same, things that felt improvised the first time you heard them crop up again from one performance after another, as if a sculptor is going back to their studio every morning chipping a bit off, smoothing an edge…but, as with the experience of lowering one’s good eye on to the ocular lens of a good microscope, the tiny variations become huge and significant events. But you have to look and listen hard. It’s as if the point of his music is to induce a high sense of awareness, steering your ears away from the freshness and the newness to the details beyond and behind the familiar.
In the petri dish today, I’m struck by the clipped, almost nagging sound the band gets here. As usual, there’s so much space for the bass and drums. Monk’s themes, solos and accompaniments melt into each other, yet stand like rocks in a Japanese garden, Charlie Rouse like a dragonfly buzzing between them without clipping his wings. There’s plenty of room, of course. Mid-“Epistrophy” I hear Monk play a single line theme that could have been another tune completely, and as I rush these words out before I forget it he does it again. Once you get in deep, these things start popping out all over the place. “Monk’s Dream” unfolds in a series of stopped sounds, the clarity of the band’s conversational interplay dry and uncompromising.
Frankie Dunlop’s drum feature jumps in and out of set song forms and tempos, a mini-set in itself. When an abrupt edit chops it out of its original flow and joins it, Frankenstein-like, on to “Criss Cross”, the lurch is artificial, illogical and hugely satisfying. On this song, John Ore’s bass has a primeval kind of sound to it, a proper tea chest thump that thuds with very little sustain. But somehow you feel the lines, in your body, in waves of up and down motion. The instrument sounds like something he made himself, and then made his own.
The last word goes to Monk, alone, on one of his favourite solo outings, “Just A Gigolo”. Here you really have to turn the magnification up, these voicings, these seemingly impossible chords, are things he worked over endlessly. And yet you can hear things changing, notes hanging over that might have been clipped in other versions, a slightly more halting delivery, even for Monk, The King Of The Halt. For a good example of the musician “in isolation”, you can’t get much more poignant than this, but the quartet tunes remind us that some things only happen with people in a room together, for years, doing the same thing. There’s no replacement for that.
Live recording of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, John Ore and Frankie Dunlop by BRT/RTB of the concert in the Grande Salle Henry Le Boeuf of the Palais Des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on 10 March, 1963.
SET LIST: Bye-Ya / Monk’s Dream / Drum solo / Criss-Cross / Epistrophy / Just a Gigolo (Encore/ Monk solo)
Tidal Waves Music will release the first limited edition of these recordings on vinyl worldwide on 20 June (change from what had been previously announced). With the collaboration of the Thelonious Monk Estate.