Sometimes these previously unreleased, newly discovered albums turn out to be something of a disappointment; tots of hype over a recording session or concert that was probably left in the vault for good reason. That's not the case here. Palo Alto, a live recording from October 1968, captures Thelonious Monk's quarter with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse on a really good night. or in this case, a really good afternoon.
The concert was planned by a sixteen year-old schoolboy named Danny Scher, who arranged to invite Monk to play at his high school with the noble aim of promoting racial equality and raising money for his school. The concert very nearly failed to take place. There were concerns that Monk would never show, and tickets sales were slow at first. There was also a last-minute scramble to arrange transportation for the band, who had another gig to go to that evening.
No matter. Monk appeared, and so did the crowds. At 47 minutes, it's a short set, but the band are on fire, and there's a warmth and vibrancy to the playing throughout. The album opens with a delightful version of Monk's romantic Ruby My Dear, with Rouse on fine form, delivering a lyrical solo. There's a rousing version of Well You Needn't, which is quite superb. Note the fine support from Monk as Rouse solos, before the pianist takes over. There's a lengthy bowed bass solo by Larry Gales, who sings along as he solos, Jarrett-style, before drummer Ben Riley comes in with a lively solo of his own. Don't Blame Me by Jimmy McHugh features Monk alone, and even the out-of-tune piano cannot detract from the enjoyment.
Blue Monk is magnificent, as good a version as I've heard. Rouse takes a superb solo, before Monk takes over with a playful solo of his own; the only disappointment is that it's not as well miked as it might have been, but there's some delightful interplay with Riley on drums to enjoy, before Gales come in with a solo of his own. Epistrophy is taken at a fair pace, perhaps aware that they didn't have long left to play, but it's great fun. The sound engineer - actually the school janitor - misses the beginning of Monk's encore, a solo read of I Love You (Sweetheart of All My Dreams), an old Tin Pan Alley tune. A pity, but there's time for a standing ovation before the band rush off to their evening gig.
What an afternoon it must have been, for Scher and everyone in attendance. The sound is far from perfect, but better than you'd expect for an amateur recording, but as you listen to the band power their way through Blue Monk and Epistrophy, you'll have a big smile on your face. Fabulous stuff.
After a delay of a few weeks, the album will be released on Impulse! on September 18th.