The Unique Thelonious Monk

Artist: Thelonious Monk

Year: 1956

Genre: Hard Bop

Grade: A

Thelonious Monk is worth a lot more than a three-cent stamp, but Riverside Records followed through on this old-time marketing ploy by sending Monk through the mail. For postal service geeks and hobby aficionados, the original stamp is actually quite rare. For devotees of bebop, the album that it came from is one of Monk’s most underrated.

Consisting entirely of covers of popular standards, The Unique Thelonious Monk was an attempt by the record company to boost the influential pianist’s mainstream appeal. Unlike his previous cover album, in which Monk made the songs his own, he now sticks close to the script. The signature, off-time chord blocks are subdued rather than askew; the trio setup of Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Art Blakey (drums) is used for support rather than singularity. Only the closing number, the eight-minute “Just You, Just Me,” features his typical, outré flex.

Critics may point toward the irony of the title: the Monk captured here isn’t unique, he’s pedestrian. However, that’s simply not true. While his overall epistrophy may not be on full display, he still dazzles with striding virtuosity. But it’s the accessibility that really makes the album unique.

 

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