18 July 2008

Friday Album Cover: Monk and Mirrors

Thelonious Monk
Brilliant Corners

On the docket this week we have two strangely similar Thelonious Monk album covers. The first, from 1956, is Brilliant Corners, one of his most celebrated albums. Monk is playing with an outstanding group of sidemen, including Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Clark Terry, and Oscar Pettiford. For the cover, Riverside Records selected a simple photo of Monk sitting in a corner created by two mirrors. It is a surprisingly apt representation of Monk's style, as his improvisations often resembled thematic reworkings of his tunes. These solos gave his listeners a look at a particular tune from every angle, much as this cover art presents Monk from multiple angles at once. It is not a brilliant album cover, but nonetheless it fits the material.

In 1963, Columbia records released Monk's album Criss Cross, his second for the label. On the album cover, the staff at Columbia used a similar mirror image to that presented on Brilliant Corners, using a photo of Monk playing at a grand piano in the studio. In this case, instead of presenting Monk from both angles, the album cover creates a new image out of the familiar lines created by the piano. Again, this resembles Monk's improvised solos. After presenting his material in the opening of a tune, Monk reworks the melody into something new. Not terribly imaginative (especially considering the fact that it had already been done), but it gets the point across.

The real question posed by these covers is why Riverside Records (who produced Brilliant Corners) never sued Columbia. Not too hard to imagine how things would have gone differently had these albums had been put out in the 90s...

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