By 1969, the great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was in many ways past his creative prime. Once a leader of the vanguard, he was now one of the music’s elders, and his core repertoire had remained essentially the same for many years, with no new ground left to break.
None of this should deter Monk fanatics from digging the highly entertaining Paris 1969, previously unreleased recordings from a French TV show. However familiar, songs like the playful “Epistrophy” and the tender “Ruby My Dear” remain fresh and inviting. Monk and his longtime sidekick, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, still find tantalizing wrinkles in time-tested melodies, while the much-younger, albeit less accomplished, rhythm section of bassist Nate Hygelund and drummer Paris Wright injects a welcome shot of energy. Along with the CD, there’s a DVD of the performances, plus an interview, but the music itself—encompassing old-school stride and angular reinventions of classic melodies—is its own deeply satisfying reward, requiring no visual aids.