At Carnegie Hall

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane. Blue Note.

Until now, the short-lived alliance of jazz pioneers Monk and Coltranecould be heard only on a handful of studio tracks and a low-fi nightclub recording. This exhilarating, recently discovered, late-’57 concert enhances the picture. With his angular, elegant piano solos, Monk had already transformed traditional influences such as stride into a modern, idiosyncratic style. Though years from the sheets of noise that would spark raging controversy, and still do, tenor saxophonist Coltrane displays a smoldering, restless intensity diametrically opposed to Monk’s playful ease. Ostensibly the junior partner, Coltrane regularly upstages his host. On Monk originals like “Epistrophy” and “Crepuscule with Nellie,” and the dazzling nine-minute version of the standard “Sweet and Lovely,” Coltrane eagerly bends the sturdy melodies, inserting notes that might ring false in less skilled hands. Meanwhile, Monk seems characteristically unruffled, providing a cool, refreshing counterpoint.

  • Jon Young is a contributing writer for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

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