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Brilliant and fresh Thelonious Monk

JAZZ

Thelonious Monk, "Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960" (SAM/ Saga, two discs to be released June 17).

Not to be missed by in-the-pocket jazz people. A major jazz event.

Here, after 57 years, is one of jazz' great lost records: Thelonious Monk's intended soundtrack for Roger Vadim's movie of "Les Liasons Dangereuses" (one ofVadim's  best movies.) When the movie was finally released, most of the jazz soundtrack was by Duke Jordan and played by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. This music was never released in full. Here it is, courtesy of Zev Feldman combing through the tapes of the late Marcel Romano who had been the manager of French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen.

Wilen, we now know, had the singular luck to appear on two of the greatest jazz soundtracks of his time -- Miles Davis' music to Louis Malle's "Ascenseur pour L'Echaufaud" and now this, which we're thrilling to for the first time. You can hear why Vadim chose not to use so much of it--out of tune saxophone ensemble playing on Monk's "Crepuscle for Nellie," metronomic drumming by Art Taylor on one cut, strange drumming on Monk's "Light Blue." But this is a jazz treasure making its debut. It isn't Wilen or Monk's customary tenor partner Charlie Rouse who commands your attention, it is Monk himself, obviously, loving to pieces his time in Paris and playing some of the most unusual Monk piano on record.

This is Monk the eccentric pianist that everyone has long known but with an extra element of showoff bebop playing that none of us have ever associated with Monk before. It's as if he's saying "this is where my old friend Bud Powell lives? OK, Bud, there's another high-velocity bebop player in town." The idea of being on a film soundtrack -- and in Paris, no less -- obviously delighted him. The versions of Monk classics here are flawed, yes, but still glorious: "Rhythm-n-ning," "Crepuscle with Nellie," "Light Blue," "Bolivar-Balues-Are" and three different versions of his "near ballad" "Pannonica." (It was in Paris on this trip that he first met Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter who was destined to be his protector for the rest of his life.)

There's a "previously untitled blues improvisation" by Monk now titled "Six-in-One." Sam Jones is the strong steady bassist on the two discs. To be hearing this now in a new century is a little like looking at some newly discovered Picasso from his Blue Period, with all of the studies leading up to it. This is both brilliant, entirely fresh music before never heard before in this form and NEWS in the jazz world.

4 stars (out of four)

 

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