THE THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET – Misterioso (1959)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Schuyler El Luis

When Schuyler assigned me a Thelonious Monk album, out of all NYC records he could have assigned me, I got the uncomfortable feeling I was going to disappoint him. I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, you see, and I specifically dislike noodling. Still, there was some hope, as I had previously listened to and enjoyed some well-regarded albums, like A Love Supreme and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Maybe I would enjoy this too, and even enlighten myself more on this much-celebrated genre of music.

Well, it saddens me to say that even among the little jazz I’ve seriously listened to, Misterioso is particularly boring. Thelonious is a pianist, and I generally prefer the piano to wind instruments in jazz, so I thought it would be a strong point. But, to my alas, it’s one of the weakest, shiest pianos I’ve seen in the genre. Not that the other instruments are that much prominent. Somehow, it feels like every single instrument takes a secondary role in this record.

Jazz tracks generally start with a pattern that gets repeated or built up for a minute or more, before the improvisation part starts and goes for a while, until the pattern comes back for the end of the song. In the case of the jazz I’ve enjoyed, those initial patterns are usually very catchy, and they linger on my mind, easing in the noodling parts, that I don’t appreciate that much. Misterioso doesn’t even try to hook me, however. The initial patterns are all weak and uninteresting, except perhaps the one in “In Walked Bud”. Too bad this track has the worst solo of all in the disk, starting by the 3-minute mark, which ruins the previously built goodwill. It’s also the longest one, and god, what a chore it is to finish it!

The improv parts feel so dull and lifeless to my not-a-fan ears. I think part of the blame goes to the weakness of the initial themes, but that surely wasn’t the sole factor. None of the instruments seem like they were trying to reach a strong emotion here. It feels like the players were too content in making a sophisticated atmosphere and nothing more. I bet none of them even sweated. If I were to list moments that stood out, I would have to handpick stuff like drum solos, which is a testament to how much I disliked the overall sound. “Blues Five Spot” has a line that sounds like the “Popeye” tune for some seconds before disassembling itself, starting around 3:40. The title track has a growing melody of horns (or other brass instrument, I’m not good at picking them apart) around the 6-7 minute mark, but instead of climbing to a climax it fizzles out and opens the way for more meaningless piano.

I think Misterioso might have been the non-João-Gilberto jazz album I disliked the most. It is a dull long-winded 46 minutes of noise that neither excited the surface of my mind, nor sank comfortably to the bottom as background music. Instead, it made its presence felt all the time, but as an annoyance. It was a bad experience that I don’t wish to repeat.
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Author: tomymostalas

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