"Solo Monk" is an album best enjoyed in solitude
Resident vinyl reviewer Ian Fan takes us on a trip down memory lane with one of his best picks from the 60s! Talking about the titular "Solo Monk", read on to find out what makes this album superior within a jazz-less era.
Out of all the albums that I had to do a write-up on, I picked “Solo Monk” by Thelonious Monk which was released in 1965 and was produced by Teo Macero.
Regarded as one of his greatest albums of all time, this entire album is just him with nothing else. It screams a melancholic kind of joy, which in turn translates into a wave of emotions that we as listeners experience.
With songs like “North of the Sunset”, where ragtime embodies the vast majority of that song, Monk ends it on a dissonant note and follows through with “Ruby, My Dear”, in the next track which seems almost bipolar in terms of emotion and tune. Monk has always had a certain skip to his notes and a palpable playfulness to his sad tunes- that being said, this album feels very personal. It’s almost as if you were watching him play right in front of you and just for you alone. Monk has always had a way of tying his dissonant melodies back to a “familiar” tune- if you understand what I mean ( by “familiar”, meaning a certain note, or tune that is pleasing to the ear ) .
In my time spent listening to the greats from Charlie Parker, Miles, & Clarke- the Monk nearly always has melodic rhythm no matter how far he wandered off. He never tried to blow everyone away with the flairs of technicality or by being “flowery”- he unquestionably gave you the chops you wanted; simple, precise and it always hit home.
My favourite track from this entire album…let’s see… it definitely has to be “Im Confessin’ (That I Love You). The title speaks for itself as it is clearly shown in the first 4 bars of its melody leading into the end of the first stanza that its emitting emotions of young beautiful love. Blossoming love in fact. Then as it progresses, you start to visualise and hear how Monk’s technical ingenuity from 1:10 till about the 2 minute mark. There’s just something about Monk’s flair on this album and this track that just glues the album together in its entirety. It’s only right that the title of the next track is “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You”, where you start to understand the weight of Monk’s feelings, the way he truly encapsulates the weight of someone who is in love is masterfully expressed on the piano.
Half of the album’s tracks are either second or even third takes of the same song. But in every take, brings out another picture, or should I say, perspective on that same song. Every take is refreshing and the song’s tune and melody is the same at the very core but how Monk plays the other different notes, is what makes every take so different in terms of facets of emotions he portrays.
It screams pure joy- a melancholic kind of joy.
Play this album when you’re driving home alone, walking home drunk, riding on the train or on a Sunday evening, and it just might stir up enough emotions deep inside yourself that you never really paid attention to. In my opinion, this album truly plays a pivotal role in the upbringing of a whole era of jazz pianists. It’s unmatched rawness and personality is the flair that all aspiring jazz pianists need.