DISCOVERY – Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

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Monk’s Soundtrack to the Roger Vadim Film Finally Gets a Release of Its Own.

Jazz piano patriarch Thelonious Monk’s recorded soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s film Les liaisons dangereuses sat undiscovered since its recording in a New York studio back in 1959. That was until��producers François Le Xuân and Frédéric Thomas stumbled onto it and reached out to Zev Feldman..

“I think what makes this record special is that first of all, it’s the only soundtrack recording that Monk ever made in his entire discography,” fellow producer Feldman tells me via phone from Los Angeles. “It comes from a really incredible time for Monk, where he was still creating masterpieces, making history, and doing things we still celebrate to this day. I think that he is one of the most important figures - forget about jazz music, I’m talking about overall in the whole scope of all genres and artistry. He is one of the most original artists of our lifetime.”

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“The most beautiful findings are often made by accident,” write Feldman, François Le Xuân and Frédéric Thomas in the extensive liner notes to the newly discovered soundtrack. “Early in 2014 we got in touch with Laurent Guenoun, the custodian of Marcel Romano’s archives. In the Fifties, Marcel was the manager of saxophonist Barney Wilen, and we were looking for recordings made by him that had never been released… Laurent announced that he did have some tapes that simply bore the words ‘Thelonious Monk.’ We made an appointment to listen to these tapes shortly afterwards, imagining they might be copies of existing recordings or, at best, a concert… A quick examination of boxes with titles of tunes by Monk or various scenes in Roger Vadim’s film allowed a glimmer of hope... could this be the actual recording session for Les Liaisons Dangereuses? Putting the first of those seven reels on the tape-machine was an emotional moment: some noise in the studio, and then we recognized the voice of Marcel. And then Monk! Monk moved on to the introduction for ‘Crepuscule with Nellie...’ It was all there! The warm-ups, the discussions, the takes, moments of silence... We exchanged hardly a word while we listened to the tapes; we had a jubilant, almost unsettling feeling that we were in the same room as the session that had taken place fifty-five years earlier at Nola Studios in New York.”

Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 was recorded on July 27, 1959 at Nola Penthouse Studios in New York City. It features Monk in the company of saxophonists Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen, along with bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor, on a set of Monk staples like “Rhythm-a-Ning,” “Well, You Needn’t” and “Monk’s Dream.” And while no new Monk compositions appear on the soundtrack, it’s a snapshot of a seminal artist at the very top of his recorded game.

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“It has a couple of different lifelines to it,” Feldman says. “First of all, it’s so interesting that you find a studio recording. How rare is that to begin with? So as a studio album, I think it should represent in terms of all of the other great album of Monk’s from that period. It’s a statement of what he was working on in that period, and it works. It’s a great record for people to listen to and enjoy, and I also think it’s interesting because of the quintet tracks on it with two tenors. It’s really interesting hearing Barney Wilen and Charlie Rouse playing together. There are also a couple of really interesting tunes of his here – like “Light Blue,” and especially the last tune – that solo piano hymn ‘By and By,’ which to me was just hauntingly beautiful and quite remarkable, even as short as it is.”

“This is a new Monk record, all of these decades later,” Feldman continues. “It was recorded so long ago, but it just stayed tucked-away. People are learning about and discovering Monk’s music all the time. And his staying power and popularity continues to grow and live on. So it’s a great cause for celebration.”

Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 will be released as a limited edition double vinyl set through Sam Records and Saga on April 22, 2017 for Record Store Day, with a 2-CD release to follow on May 19.