It's not often that you get to buy a new album by Thelonious Monk, the jazz pioneer who pretty much invented bebop piano at Minton's Playhouse in uptown Manhattan in the early 40's, but this week I did with a double CD of the recordings he made for the soundtrack of a 1960 French film, Les Liasions Dangereuses.
Although based on the 1782 novel of the same name, the film is set amongst a bourgeois family in contemporary France. Some of the music from it, including material by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, was released as an album at the time, but Monk's contributions lay in the record company vaults until they were rediscovered in 2014.
The sound on the album is as sharp and as fresh as the day it was put onto tape in a studio on the West Side of Manahattan in the summer of 1959. Although Monk is playing music he'd played many times before, rather than newly-composed material, there's less of the angularity and atonality which you normally associate with his playing, and which first drew me to it twenty or so years ago, more swing and lyricism, a romantic feeling even, no doubt appropriate to the theme of the film (some of the alternate and unedited takes which make up the second disc of the album are in a noticeably faster tempo than the ones which ended up being used in the film). Monk also shares frontline duties almost equally with the rest of his quintet, especially the tenor saxophonists Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen.
The album includes a booklet with black and white and colour photos from the session featuring Monk himself in a fetching hat, his wife Nellie and patron Pannonica Rothschild, as well as extensive liner notes. My favourite are from the English, indeed Mancunian, jazz pianist and critic Brian Priestley who recalls seeing the film while living in Paris as a student in the early 60's, and even hearing a couple of Monk's musical contributions to it which were released as singles in France on jukeboxes in bars and cafes there.