Back in 1989, when the young trumpet phenom Roy Hargrove was still establishing himself as a voice to be reckoned with, he got together a group of talented sidemen to record what were then neglected gems that had not yet become standards. His telling choice of the Thelonious Monk ballad "Ruby, My Dear" was right on the mark. Exquisitely assisted by the underappreciated Antonio Hart, whose deep-timbered solo is almost Webster-esque in its approach, the song is done to poignant perfection. The subtle Al Foster on brushes and Scott Coley on bass combine with pianist John Hicks to support this marvelous rendition. For his part, Hargrove shows a deep respect and sensitivity for the music in his Hubbard-like solo, where he extracts his own sense of pathos from his horn. After the tempo changes from slow to medium, Hart once again joyfully spreads his wings, playing in a more distinctively personal and flowing voice. Hicks plays a nice albeit short solo before Hart returns to his deep, drawn-out Webster-like sound. Hargrove should be applauded for his astute judgment in material as well as his generous showcasing of Hart's considerable tonal talent on this fine piece. This is an enjoyable effort worthy of repeated listening.
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Choosing just one version of “Ruby, My Dear” as Monk’s finest is no easy task. This one stands out for Monk’s strong comping behind John Coltrane, who states the theme and then launches into a romantic solo that strays farther and farther from the melody before coming back around to join it. Monk plays with restraint, never giving in to the urge to splash his perverse tendencies onto Coltrane’s canvas. When he does finally solo, it is with a reverence for his own composition. This two-disc set also includes a version of “Ruby, My Dear” from a few weeks earlier that featured Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, with similarly satisfying results. Also worth hunting down: a sweet, unaccompanied version on the Columbia album “Solo Monk” and an 11-minute version that Monk’s quintet recorded at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival.
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