Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners (1957), 7/10

The opening title track, featuring a wholly novel approach to structure, shows Monk's brilliance right away at perhaps its peak. It is clear why he had such respect in the jazz world and would gain increasing acclaim over the years. Brilliant Corners as a set of group performances, and especially as a set of compositions is earth shattering considering its release in 1957. The album’s arc fires on every level and the performance is spot on, which is especially impressive considering it took twenty-five takes and how the group dealt with quite a bit of drama to get the end result we hear on the record. Aptly named as brilliant and contains some beauty that is very rarely equalled in jazz. The energy and passion comes and goes but the foundational complexity and ambition are on full display, clearly for all. Monk’s very individual eccentricities set it apart from the rest of jazz at the time, and while his performance style and arrangements would improve over time, it is a very clear step forward for jazz at the time both within and beyond Monk’s career. He clearly had an inherent talent for songwriting and Brilliant Corners is loaded with some of his best including the title track, the quirky and driving, yet touching “Bemsha Swing” and the timelessly moving “I Surrender, Dear”, these are especially outstanding considering they came from this stage in his career development. I personally prefer Monk’s later career, particularly his more raw and unhinged recordings, but Brilliant Corners represents a formidable talent beginning to expand the boundaries and possibilities of be bop, producing some of his most immortal and perpetually elegant songs. The session itself adds another layer of unique character and inventiveness, featuring two very talented quintets.