Craft Recordings’ acclaimed Small Batch vinyl series returns with an audiophile pressing of Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. A landmark title in the pianist’s celebrated catalog, the 1957 album not only introduces several Monk originals, but also features an all-star line-up of talent, including Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, and Paul Chambers. Shipping September 8th and limited to just 4,000 copies worldwide, Brilliant Corners can be pre-ordered today exclusively at CraftRecordings.com/SmallBatch.
Handpicked from Craft’s extensive catalog, each Small Batch release offers discerning listeners the highest-quality, authentic sound – distilled to its purest form. As with all albums in the series, Brilliant Corners features lacquers cut from the original tapes (AAA) by Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI using Neotech’s VR900 compound. This one-step lacquer process (as opposed to the standard three-step process) allows for the utmost level of musical detail, clarity, and dynamics while reducing the amount of surface noise on the record. The limited nature of these pressings guarantees that each record is a true representation of the original lacquer and is as close as the listener can get to the original recording.
Each copy is individually numbered and encased in a foil-stamped, linen-wrapped slipcase featuring an acrylic inset of the original artwork. The vinyl disc – extractable through a unique, frictionless ribbon pull tab – is housed in a reproduction of the album’s original tip-on jacket from Riverside Records and protected by an archival-quality, anti-static, non-scratching inner sleeve. New liner notes from the GRAMMY® Award-winning music historian, journalist, and producer, Ashley Kahn complete the package.
Since launching in 2020, the Small Batch series has drawn accolades from both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking to The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, Marc Mickelson of Audio Beat hailed it as “[One] of the very best reissues I’ve come across. . . . It was created with extreme care, and it lives up to the goal of being closer in sound to master tape. It’s an LP with music and sound to savor.” Analog Planet’s Mark Smotroff called Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet “A wonderfully open-sounding record…I felt I was getting a nice sense of what the original recording – and the original records – sounded like, yet with the sonic benefits of Grundman’s mastering touch.” Reviewing Yusef Lateef’s Eastern Sounds, Dan Margolis at DownBeat simply declared “The music is amazing,” while Jamie Atkins at Record Collector praised John Coltrane’s Lush Life, noting, “Craft have done a superlative job; the packaging is elegant and the sound is flawless. . . . There’s a depth and vivacity that brings out the best in these sessions.”
“A classic album should be both era- and genre-defining,” argues Ashley Kahn. “Thelonious Monk, who released LPs for an 18-year run from 1952 to ’71, ultimately delivered more than one. But there’s no question which was his first true classic – the one that still checks off all the boxes and continues to serve as a worthy introduction to his musical legacy. It is Brilliant Corners.”
A brilliant, eccentric, and prolific pianist, Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917–1982) was a transformative figure in jazz music. One of the genre’s most recorded artists (second only to Duke Ellington), Monk has long been revered for his enduring compositions (including multiple jazz standards), his unorthodox melodic structures, and his revolutionary approach to the piano.
When Monk signed to Riverside Records in 1955, however, he was struggling to capture mainstream audiences. It had been nearly a decade since his earliest sessions as a leader (including titles under Blue Note and Prestige Records) and while he was well respected by critics and peers, commercial success continued to elude him – a concern that was further compounded by the loss of his New York City cabaret card, which forbade him from headlining clubs in the city. But soon, his fortunes would change.
Brilliant Corners was recorded during three sessions at New York’s Reeves Sound Studio, beginning on October 9, 1956, just one day before Monk’s 40th birthday. With Riverside co-founder Orrin Keepnews serving as producer, Monk recorded in two different quintet settings. The first featured tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins (then a fast-rising star), alto saxophonist Ernie Henry, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and bebop pioneer Max Roach on drums. Together, they debuted two tributes to the pianist’s friend and patron, Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter: “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are” and “Pannonica” (featuring Monk on the celesta). Several days later, the group reconvened to record another Monk original, “Brilliant Corners.”
The final session, captured in December, featured Rollins and Roach, with the addition of bassist Paul Chambers and trumpeter Clark Terry. Monk led the musicians through “Bemsha Swing,” an original co-written with bassist Denzil Best, which debuted on record in 1952. Monk also delivered one solo performance, selecting Harry Barris’ classic ballad, “I Surrender, Dear.”
Released in April 1957, Brilliant Corners was transformative for Monk’s career, delivering him a major comeback. The album was met with wide acclaim, including from DownBeat’s Nat Hentoff, who proclaimed it “Riverside’s most important modern jazz LP to date.” Within months, Monk’s cabaret card was reinstated. That summer, he had a standing engagement at The Five Spot with John Coltrane, which became the hottest ticket in town. Later that year, Monk released two more acclaimed albums on Riverside: Thelonious Himself and Monk’s Music, while DownBeat declared Brilliant Corners to be “1957’s most praised LP.” In 2003, the album was among the first 50 recordings chosen for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, while over the decades, Brilliant Corners has ranked regularly as an essential jazz title.
Brilliant Corners Tracklist
- Brilliant Corners
- Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are
- I Surrender, Dear
- Bemsha Swing