Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse is best known for his work with Thelonious Monk, playing with the enigmatic pianist and composer during Monk's Columbia years from 1959 until 1970. Rouse's sound with Monk was so fluid and smooth that's it's easy to forget how many eccentric, jagged turns he had to navigate night after night, and that Rouse did it with quiet, steady grace is a testament both to his sax playing and to the space Monk built into his puzzle box compositions. Rouse headed up few sessions on his own as a bandleader, but as this calm, workmanlike set, recorded in 1960 and originally released in 1961 on Epic Records, clearly shows, he could rise to the occasion. Working with a rhythm section of Dave Bailey on drums, Peck Morrison on bass, and Billy Gardner on piano (this was actually Gardner's debut in a recording studio), Rouse's sax lines seem to float effortlessly over the top of things, feeling less urgent and angular than his work with Monk. Highlights include the opener, "You Don't Know What Love Is," the Gardner composition "Billy's Blues," and the pretty ballad, "(There Is No) Greater Love," that closes things out. It's all very pleasant, falling to the easy side of the hard bop spectrum with very few rough edges or surprises. Rouse arguably was at his best as a solid supporting player, but this session has its moments, and it shows a more romantic, gliding side to Rouse than was usually on display with Monk. Everything here on this Japanese reissue was included in Epic's Unsung Hero release, which also added three additional tracks, making it a marginally better purchase than this one. ~ Steve Leggett
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