Music

Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone in San Francisco

A jazz classic that still stands today as one of a brilliant mind's best.


Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Alone in San Francisco

Label: Original Jazz Classics
US Release Date: 2011-06-14
UK Release Date: 2011-06-13
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Thelonious Monk was truly one of the most expressionistic musicians to ever live. Actually, to reduce the piano great to a mere musician is a bit insulting. He was more than that. Monk was a painter. He was a virtuoso. He was a master. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word. He was a giant. He was imaginative. He was fearless. He was an inventor.

Largely credited for the creation of be-bop, Monk laid the groundwork for modern-day jazz. He continuously fought to keep things outside the box, always looking forward and seemingly never questioning himself no matter what repercussions may lie ahead. Listening to him play is like listening to a man pouring out his soul in the most Shakespearean way. Even without words, his piano mastery immediately transfixes all listeners and guides them through an emotional journey that could be ruined only by other sounds.

That’s why Thelonious Alone in San Francisco, the second of three albums filled with nothing but solo piano music that Monk released in his career, continues to set the standard for jazz performance today. Sure, any fan of the genre can already tell you how influential the release was when originally recorded in 1959. But with Concord Music’s Original Jazz Classics series' recent reissue, we are all reminded once again of the legend’s impact on an entire movement of music.

The only extra offering we receive here is a second take on "There's Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie", one of the standout tracks from the original album's set. The difference between the two performances is minimal yet noted. Whereas the originally released recording sees Monk abundantly use accents and aggression, this previously unreleased version is more delicate. The legend's signature pauses and punches are still there, though with this alternate take, everything seems more subdued, as though Monk consciously recorded one version filled with fire and another with tears. The difference in approach doesn't take a thing away from the initial sterling composition, though, and the newly released version proves to merely be yet another example of how intelligent Monk's music can appear.

The other tracks on Thelonious Alone in San Francisco also prove to have aged with grace, now more than 50 years removed from when they were initially realized. The album has always contained one of the most riveting renditions of "Blue Monk" ever recorded, and hearing it lead the album is again a reminder of the uniquely brilliant mind that sat inside Monk's head. Even more so, the expertise within the intricacies of the pianist's playing prove to be best suited for this setting, without the aid of other instruments. This particular performance is the best way to take in all of what Monk intended when originally penning the piece.

"Everything Happens to Me" allows Monk to play with tempos and time signatures as breathlessly and breezily as anyone who has ever sat behind a piano. "Round Lights" and "You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart" are two exhilarating adventures through music and mind, proof that Monk never needed to utter a word to convey the emotions with which he seemed to be constantly wrestling. Tracks such as "Ruby, My Dear", "Reflections" and "Bluehawk" continue to bleed as much genius today as they did when the icon first laid the songs down half a century ago.

Some people argue that Thelonious Alone in San Francisco is the best record Thelonious Monk ever produced. It's a portrait of relaxation -- a peak into what it might be like to simply sit around and watch a master work by himself with only his craft. There are also those who believe that Thelonious Alone in San Francisco is one of the greatest jazz music recordings ever because of its detailed journey into such an unparalleled musical mind and because that voyage is set in such a raw atmosphere that the element of intimacy becomes palpable with each listen.

Wherever Thelonious Alone in San Francisco ultimately winds up in the history of musical legend is seemingly irrelevant at this point. More than anything else, this album is a lesson in composition. It's a lesson in craftsmanship and it's a lesson in language. Monk was talking to himself throughout all of Thelonious Alone in San Francisco. Little did he know, though, that those thoughts would translate into something as beautiful, interesting, masterful and inspiring as the songs that appear on this masterpiece of a record. It's a conversation we all long for when interacting with others. As Thelonious Alone in San Francisco proves, it's a conversation this legend had no problem igniting whenever he happened to find himself alone with a piano.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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