Review by Lindsay Planer
Although the contents of the original Thelonious in Action vinyl comes from the August 7, 1958 show, the CD reissue, which was released three decades later, incorporates over 20 minutes of extras from a July 9 gig that had been previously rejected by the artist. While in exceptional form, Monk is far from casting the only or even the brightest light during these unforgettable sides. Joining him on-stage at the legendary Five Spot club are: Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass), and Roy Haynes. It's unfortunate that this unit did not remain together for any length of time as they are able to launch Monk's compositions into some fairly significant places. Johnny Griffin's aggressive performance style incorporates a lyrical and melodic undertone perfectly complementing Monk's sporadic inflections. "Coming On the Hudson" features Griffin weaving his magic around the melody while providing a decisive Coltrane-esque counterpoint to which Monk precariously locates his responses. The intensity of "Rhythm-A-Ning" lifts the whole combo after quickly developing the chorus. Griffin builds line upon melodic line, after which Monk responds in kind by adding distinct punctuations of his own. So powerful is Griffin's onslaught, Monk can be heard indicating more than once that Griffin should indulge in another verse. After a ragged but right beginning, "Evidence" becomes transcendental with Griffin, Monk, Malik, and Haynes — who is frenetically brilliant throughout — diving into solos which envelop the melody and ultimately expand the unique patterns and motivations. The CD reissue contains a supplementary (if not definitive) take of "In Walked Bud" from an earlier live recording session that is available in its entirety on the Complete Riverside Recordings box set.
This is the second long-player to be taken from the same August 1958 Five Spot recordings that had yielded the similarly brilliant Thelonious in Action The quartet heard on these sets includes Monk (piano), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Roy Haynes (drums), and Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass). Their overwhelming and instinctual capacities directly contribute to the powerful swingin' and cohesive sound they could continually reinvent. While these are Monk's tunes, arrangements, and band, it is Griffin who consistently liberates the performances. During "Nutty," his flurry of activity — which adeptly incorporates several lines from "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" — has a maniacal swing that is highlighted by some definitive counterplay from both Haynes and Monk. Additionally, the transition between Haynes and Monk is organic and seemingly psychic. "Blues Five Spot" — a 12-bar blues homage to their current residence — features solos from each band member. Griffin and Monk again display the seemingly innate ability to instantly recalculate chord structures as well as transmute melodies. The show-stopping solo vamp from Griffin hurls the rhythm along while simultaneously dropping in quotes from other tunes — such as the theme for the animated Popeye cinematic shorts. Malik's brief solo, like his band interaction, is underrated yet precisely executed. The title track is given an exploratory performance. While Griffin aptly seizes the reins to blow his bop onslaught, Haynes' natural and subdued agility perfectly supports the extended tenor solo, creating some unique passages. Ironically, the one Monk solo performance, "Just a Gigolo," is the only composition not by Monk.