This record, released in 1963, was Thelonious Monk’s first release for Columbia records, after his well-known historic run that preceded his move to the label. Monk’s reputation in jazz, and the rest of music, for that matter, is something of pure legend. He was always a true musician’s musician; a perennial mathematician of his art and expression. Just what is that makes Monk such a craftsman? Is it his seemingly inhuman touches in the arrangements? His apparent lack of acknowledgment of what was going on musically around him? His conscientiousness to operate on a different playing field than any other artist had dared to?
The pure serenity that this record displays starts on the opening track, the title track, which is not just serene, but a fine presentation of the Tao of Monk. To listen to Thelonious Monk, at his very best, is to listen to something that revels in its own divinity. The following track, “Body and Soul”, is an excellent example of Monk’s continued focus on compositional improvisation that had begun to envelop his career at this point in time. One of the reasons that Monk’s off-kilter and unique sensibilities of improvisation works so well on this record is because of the talent that surrounds him. The rest of the quartet, particularly Frankie Dunlop, who provides an unbelievably proficient performance on the drums, prove that they’re more than capable of presenting a suitable backing for Monk and his unrestrained imagination. By the time we get to “Blue Bolivar Blues”, it becomes more and more clear that the zen of Monk and his equally dazzling quartet are presenting the listener with conditions that are impossible to deem unacceptable. The closing track on this record is “Sweet and Lovely” and, as a continuation of the rest of this brilliant and enlightening record, it gives the listener a sense of the feelings that, chances are, they didn’t even know they possessed. Like all great jazz, the very best of the best, this is a defining factor of this particular record.
Thelonious Monk didn’t pull any punches on his debut record for Columbia, simply adding more to the testimony of his own greatness as an artist. What is truly incredible about this record is that, having been creating records for almost two decades, Monk continued to explore uncharted territory as if it weren’t the slightest bit difficult for him. Throughout the history of jazz, or any genre, for that matter, you would be hard-pressed to find another artist who was able to map out uncharted territory with the level of ease and proficiency that Monk was consistently able to. Monk and his quartet allow this record to flow with such an organic aura that, while being a challenging recording, also has a way of putting the listener in a state of comfortability. Obviously, challenging material doesn’t always make the listener comfortable, but with the quartet’s unflinching assuredness at the helm married with their conquest to create a record that is solely representative of the zen that they bolstered as a unit, this factor isn’t something that even comes to mind throughout the duration of the record. This was yet another classic achievement for Thelonious Monk.