Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners. The UK Riverside London pressing and the far preferable US version
Brilliant Corners, recorded for the Riverside label in 1956 with an A-list band including saxophonist Sonny Rollins and former Charlie Parker drummer Max Roach, was the most compositionally ambitious session in the former church pianist’s decade-long jazz career thus far. In a legendarily fractious session, the title track’s growling theme was so treacherous in its lurching phrasing and abrupt time changes that a band this good still spent 25 takes on it, and the final version was only possible by splicing two takes together. But Brilliant Corners was no calculated technical highwire act, but a piece of audaciously adventurous composing that has never lost its power to startle and seduce over the decades.
From Monk’s opening stabbed chords (as if he were chipping rock) to the bone-shaking notes, guttural horn harmonies and sudden thematic gallops, Brilliant Corners is gripping – as are the composer’s jangling improvisations, and Rollins’s lazily unfolding and huge-toned tenor solo. The session’s full of captivating variety too – from the urban graininess of Hornin’ In to the relaxed groove of Let’s Cool One, the surreal mix of Monk’s chordal bluntness and the coyness of a glockenspiel on Pannonica to the bleary rootsiness of the wonderful blues Ba Lue Bolivar Ba Lues Are. Arriving just before the late-50s free-jazz upheavals of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, this was music that showed just how powerfully song-form harmonies and the tempered scale could be wrenched into new shapes. [Guardian jazz critic John Fordham]