In 1958, Thelonious Monk's appearance at the Newport Festival finally alerted a world beyond the demi-monde of beatniks and jazz cognoscenti to his unique abilities. By 1962 his glory days were over.
Still, Monk remained an inimitable pianist. His 50's albums for Prestige were great by ordinary standards, displaying flashes of his compositional genius. But the iconoclastic fire that forged his legacy of innovation had infrequently risen above a steadily glowing ember since the 40s, when works like "Mysterioso", "Round Midnight" and "In Walked Bud" had struck as weird electric cattle prods at the spine of a bewildered musical establishment.
By 1962 Monk had spent twenty years not so much ahead of the curve of jazz as at angles to it. Approbation flowered too late to prevent his questioning the sense of working so hard in the face of scant recognition, and so the latter stage of his career commenced. Its beginning can be traced roughly to this album, here reissued with 27 minutes of alternate takes. Entering the studio for his first Columbia session, it's tempting to wonder if Monk found irony in recollections of the composition lessons that he'd once given to now all-conquering new labelmate Miles Davis when they were alchemists together at the crucible of long-gone bebop.
Monk's skew-whiff timing and harmony saddled him with a serial hanging-on-to-sidemen snafu. Lately, intuitive bassist John Ore, deceptively loose-sounding drummer Frankie Dunlop, and equal parts funky and angular tenor man Charlie Rouse had hung tough over months of club dates, and their broken-in Sympatico thwacks all the often chestnutty tunes of "Monk's Dream" bang in the center pocket. The magic works best on devilish riff-fest "Bye-Ya".
Listening now to Monk parley "Body & Soul", "Just a Gigolo" or "Sweet & Lovely", it almost seems funny he was considered a radical modernist. Straight-up blues underpins almost all; pointedly amateurish technique regularly recalls original model James P. Johnson.
Then, Thelonious himself; aching, spring-day romanticism of fleeting substitutions in ballads. Blanging, wide, not-quite-dissonant chord interjections, as if a chord were some exotic beetle to be turned over just long enough to see how many legs it had before throwing it down. Monk's unique contribution to music, and "Monks Dream" itself, is founded on these motifs, which purely expressed his madcap, avuncular presence and which he would never attempt to expand upon again after this record.