These days, it's a rare occurrence for an "important" record to be released. Of the six billion human beings on the planet, probably four billion are musicians after a fashion, recording and releasing all manner of sonic fluff. Since the record industry isn't terribly interested in combating this phenomenon, it's a good idea to look to the past for substance in music every once in a while.
Thelonious Sphere Monk was one of the most substantial artists of the twentieth century, and the double CD Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia bears stone witness to this fact. While jazz is the most expressive of American music, Monk was jazz's most expressive exponent, challenging convention on the piano with a fierce individualism that left legends and scholars of the genre scratching their goatees. After a gig with the man at New York's Five Spot club, a befuddled John Coltrane said of getting lost in a Monk composition, "It felt like falling down an elevator shaft."
The first disc is a beautifully remastered set of Monk at the Olympia in Paris in 1965, with one of his most notable quartets. Of the many highlights, the short solo piano rendition of "Body and Soul" stands out, as does the twelve-minute "Well You Needn't," on which the incidental sounds of Monk humming notes along with his keystrokes gives a glimpse of where his mind was when he played. The second disc is a DVD of the same quartet live in Oslo, Norway, a year later. Though it's black-and-white footage, there's no shortage of color. The kicker in this set is a snazzy "Lulu's Back in Town" that depicts Monk at the top of his form, shuffling around the room while his band effortlessly lays down the law.
Incredible recordings, priceless footage and expansive liner notes all combine to make this the purchase of the year for anyone who claims to love music. You'll hardly believe you own it once you do.
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