Music: Historic Recordings

Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945Uptown
Music •••• Sound •••½
Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie HallBlue Note
Music ••••• Sound ••••
These two releases transcend their historic significance. Even if you're not familiar with their stat-us as archival rarities, the music is enough to recommend them highly. Sure, there's a ton of available recordings by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and a notable handful of the two together in concert. But Town Hall is special, not only because of the surprisingly high quality of the sound (after a shaky beginning) but also because this is bebop when it was still hot from the labs of the jazz revolutionaries. In other words, it's the basic repertory when it was still fresh, amounting to a collection of some of bop's greatest hits - and one of its greatest licks, that being Bird's break near the beginning of "A Night in Tunisia." The two horns are at the top of their game - Diz brash and virtuosic, Bird lightning fast and mellifluous.

The November 1957 performance by Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is a Holy Grail of sorts, the first extended and decently recorded concert by a legendary, short-lived quartet. Monk and Trane are a better mesh than you might at first think, the pianist interested in creating spaces and the tenor saxist wanting to fill them. The one ballad here, "Monk's Mood," brings out Trane's soulful side, but more impressive is the ease with which he threads his way through the tricky harmonies. As for Monk ... in some of his live dates, he was on automatic; in others, he was thoroughly engaged. This is definitely one of the latter. And after decades of being told how great this combo was, it's an intense pleasure to find out that they were really all that.