This mid-period masterwork from jazz piano’s most uncommon voice find Monk and his quartet ( Charlie Rouse on tenor, Ben Riley on drums and Larry Gales on bass) exploring every texture, tone and melodic turn of seven expansive tracks. This group was subtle, mature and confident, easily supporting Monk’s more idiosyncratic side-tracks (check out the solo on “Locomotive” or the restless exposition on “Japanese Folk Song”) while allowing listeners freedom to move through or contemplate all the sublime subtexts Monk conjures from the endless well of his inspiration.
This emphasis on laid back and mature presentation aided the recording as well. These master tapes sound amazing and getting them to disc was a pure pleasure. Subtle changes in atmosphere, tone and melody fill the space between the speakers, a wide soundstage and expansive dynamics the gift of music indelibly played. This is one sonic powerhouse for the ages.
Available for the first time on 180-gram 2-LP with the full performances of the original tracks and including two bonus tracks, this new Impex release gets you closer to Monk’s genius than ever before. Kevin Gray and Robert Pincus used analog master tapes and minimal processing to great effect, while original session and jacket images were culled to create the deluxe gatefold jacket. Add in the sound-of-silence pressings from RTI and you have a can’t miss jazz disc ready to delight and inspire every time it spins on your turntable. As is our way, pressings will be limited to 3,000 numbered copies. We’ve pulled out all the stops on this mesmerizing Monk classic. All you have to do is get one and enjoy before they’re all gone.
Thelonious Monk’s Straight, No Chaser is the pinnacle of his recordings for Columbia Records. It was his eighth for the label, and there would be only two more official releases before Monk and Columbia parted ways. By this point in 1967, he and his bandmates, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley, had been playing together for a number of years and this showed in the near-telepathic way they played with and off each other. It also meant that they knew Monk’s music inside and out — no small feat — so they could improvise at will. Much of this album was of older Monk tunes, the title coming from one of his most widely recorded and praised compositions. Not that that was a huge surprise as he tended to recycle his music over and over. But what would for almost anyone else have become tediously repetitious as the years rolled by, for Monk, the inveterate innovator, it managed to always sound fresh — as if he had written the tunes just for that particular session.
Given that copies of the original LP are plentiful in used record stores the country over and they sound very good, what makes this Impex double-LP reissue worth its premium price? How about an additional 29 minutes of music that never made it onto the original LP? Yep, for the very first time vinyl fans have what has, until now, been the exclusive domain of digital versions. This bonus material consists of full-length versions of the original numbers and two bonus tracks, including one complete song, “Green Chimneys.” This isn’t material of interest only to completists. It provides greater insight into each number, which now exists as it was played and recorded.
There are always going to be tradeoffs when you are dealing with reissues of albums as old as this one, now celebrating its forty-seventh birthday. Magnetic tapes age and wear with time and with that aging comes sonic degradation. The trick is minimizing any losses while accentuating the positives to create an LP that at the very worst is the sonic equal of the original and at the very best surpasses it. Here we get more of the latter, along with the bonus of the added material. The original and reissue do not sound exactly the same. Impex gives us a better rendering of Monk’s piano and Riley’s drums, which both sound clearer and more detailed. Gales’ bass, while deeper on the original, is a bit less defined than on the Impex version. It’s Rouse’s tenor where the differences are most noticeable. On the original, Rouse has a sense of separation and space around him that is lacking a bit on the Impex, although both offer excellent tone and timbre. But when you buy a Monk album, it’s Monk you are paying to hear, and the Impex reissue brings his contributions more front and center, making him sound more in-the-room.
What Impex has added to this now double-LP set could have been done originally if Columbia hadn’t cheaped out and released a single LP. Once you’ve heard the full tunes, the original album sounds like the cut-and-paste job it was. That is what makes this Impex reissue such a treasure.
ILHAMI DÜZGÜN, STEREO MAGAZINE, APRIL 2015
When asked who influenced him musically, Thelonious Monk reportedly said, “Well, I myself, of course.” You really can’t count the legendary jazz pianist among the sort of people who emulate others; he, quite to the contrary, is among those who create anew. Instrumental in the development of Be-Bop, he is considered one of the most innovative eccentrics of jazz. His album Straight, No Chaser, from the spring of 1967, is a typical example of his unique compositional style—seemingly simple, but running through it are shifting rhythms that to this day seem thrillingly fresh. The album, released by Columbia in its original version as six partly condensed pieces, is now available for the first time as a double full length LP, including the “new” title, “Green Chimneys.”
The Impex label has proven yet again why it is currently among the best in terms of sound quality. From the first notes of the famous composition, “Locomotive,” it is clear how meticulously Kevin Gray and Robert Pincus have mastered the work. Ben Riley’s drums are positioned with razor sharpness to the left, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse to the right, and Monk, along with bassist Larry Gales, very lifelike and in the middle. The sound is not the least bit canned; rather it’s as if Monk is in the room itself. Simply magic. One of the rare moments in which the critical audio enthusiast is truly blessed.