Mulligan Meets Monk

Thelonious Monk / Gerry Mulligan

OJC Records, 2013

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Pianist Thelonious Monk and baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan came together in 1957 to record Mulligan Meets Monk. That album has now been reissued as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Throughout jazz history, musicians have constantly played with one another in the studio and on stage. What was unique about the Monk-Mulligan union was how different they were in temperament, cultural background, and approach to music. The result may not have been one of the best jazz albums ever produced, but it certainly was one of the more interesting.

Monk was one of the signature musicians and pianists in jazz history. His use of dissonant notes and odd rhythms helped him build the structures of his compositions. He was most comfortable alone or in a small group setting. He always had a mysterious quality about him and is considered one of the leading proponents of the bebop movement. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Mulligan was more melodic and was very comfortable in larger groups and even orchestral settings. He was associated with the cool jazz movement and during the mid 1950s was at the height of his popularity.

What Mulligan and Monk had in common was a genuine friendship, not to mention the talent, as they were two of the better musicians in jazz history. This allowed them to overcome the musical tensions that permeate some of the tracks.

There are four alternate takes that were a part of the original album and they help shed some light on the recording process.

“Straight No Chaser” is a classic Thelonious Monk composition. The bonus track is number one and finds Mulligan very tentative as he explores the composition but there is no Monk solo whatsoever. It is take three that was originally issued, and at a minute and a half longer, it contains a Monk solo that plays off Mulligan’s.

Similarly, the first two takes of “I Mean You” are somewhat frenetic and rushed. The fourth released take is more leisurely as they trade relaxed solos.

When listening to the album, it is usually Mulligan who tries to adjust and allow Monk room to play. Many times, the tension in is the waiting for Thelonious to jump in at the right time. The music was recorded as a quartet with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson, which was also in Monk’s comfort zone.

As with all the releases in the series, the sound has been remastered and is excellent considering the state of recording equipment in 1957. The original liner notes and an extended essay are also included.

Mulligan Meets Monk was a leap of faith for the two musicians and remains so for the listener. It is not the best music they ever recorded but it is guaranteed to keep your attention.

Rating: B

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© 2013 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of OJC Records, and is used for informational purposes only.