April 3, 2008

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Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners – Keepnews Collection
Riverside Records, March 4
Considered the jazz pianist’s breakthrough album (a popular 1955 collection of Duke Ellington covers generally doesn’t count in the snobby view of Monk completists), this 1956 classic is one of a handful of monumental albums that recently received the 24-bit remaster treatment at the hands of Riverside Records label owner/producer Orrin Keepnews, who was indeed the original producer here.

The devious, alien chords Monk coolly feeds to his sax players in the first quarter of “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are” are like a self-administered Rorschach test that could serve as a touchstone for the album — there’s no right and wrong in a landscape in which easy-breezy background patter descends into chromatic scale-work, sax goose-calling contests (in the challenging, very obtrusive title track) and where legendary jazz patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, though a pretty tough cookie, is mawkishly saluted by Monk tinkling away at a celeste (the obscure keyboard used most famously in Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”). The band trying to keep pace with Monk (the songs were so difficult to play that one or two consist of parts recorded separately and spliced together) included Sonny Rollins and Max Roach. A+Eric W. Saeger