Thelonious Monk ‘Piano Solo’ [The Centennial Edition] (Sony) 5/5

A marvellous addition to the Monk back catalogue with an extra twenty-five minutes of bonus material, this is a worthy way to celebrate what would have been Monk’s one hundredth birthday on 10 October, 2017. The original recordings were made by French national radio and then a selection was placed onto a 10″ vinyl for the Vogue label. Nine numbers were re-issued on the first CD edition, but this has now increased to sixteen.

Veteran French jazz radio presenter André Francis briefly starts off proceedings, but that is as intrusive as any external influence gets, and the rest is pure Monk. In a way, the music is so immediate, it is akin to having the equivalent of a George Gershwin performing for you in your living room, and that makes the music here extra special. Even an incomplete version of ‘Round midnight’ (there are two others complete) is worth investigating and

Where this new edition wins hands is in the juxtaposing of different versions of Monk classics’ in solo and trio formats. The solo performance of ‘Round Midnight’ is, in parts, magical, and hearing the original author’s intentions a decade on from his composing the piece is a joy to behold. Elsewhere a medley of ‘Hackensack/Epistrophy’ is seamlessly achieved, and another favourite of this writer is the gorgeous ‘Portrait of an Ermite (reflections)’.

Exemplary notes in bi-lingual French and English and a luxurious colour booklet that beautifully reproduces the original cover and captures the 1954 Paris performances of Monk. A clear candidate for one of the most significant and symbolic jazz re-issues of the year. The notes are written by Monk biographer and fellow jazz pianist, Laurent de Wilde. A marvellous recording and gem of a release.

Tim Stenhouse