“McRae Sings Monk”, RCA Novus

This is a winner. Thelonious Monk has already become the most recorded jazz composer since Duke Ellington, but with the use of lyrics (some of them seldom or never recorded before) on 15 Monk standards, and the wise choice of a singer who knows them inside out, his legacy will reach a new echelon.


Except for “ ‘Round Midnight,” most of these songs were wordless until decades after they were written. For legal reasons they all have new titles (“Monk’s Dream” becomes “Man, That Was a Dream,” “Straight No Chaser” is now “Get It Straight”). Both these lyrics are by Sally Swisher.

Of the others, seven, all equally ingenious, are by Jon Hendricks. McRae is in total control, with witty words and a scat interlude on “Well You Needn’t” (a.k.a. “It’s over Now”) and “In Walked Bud,” alias “Suddenly,” which is heard in both studio and live versions, the former with tenor by the late Charlie Rouse and suberb bass work by George Mraz. On almost all cuts, though, the basic group has Clifford Jordan on tenor and Eric Gunnison, McRae’s regular pianist.

The alternating humor and charm of these tunes are flawlessly captured in this album.

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