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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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MODERN JAZZ QUARTET

Concorde

Prestige 0888072306530

 

 



 
1. Ralph's New Blues
2. All of You
3. I'll Remember April
4. Gershwin Medley: Soon; For You, For Me, Forevermore; Love Walked In; Our Love is Here to Stay
5. Softly As in a Morning Sunrise
6. Concorde
 
John Lewis - Piano
Milt Jackson - Vibes
Percy Heath - Bass
Connie Kay - Drums

 

It is boom time for fans of the Modern Jazz Quartet, with reissues coming thick and fast. This is the second MJQ reissue I have reviewed this year. Concorde, now reappearing in the "Rudy Van Gelder Remasters" series, was originally recorded in 1955, soon after Connie Kay joined as the group's drummer, replacing Kenny Clarke and starting a long period of stability for this particular personnel.

I touched on the history of the Modern Jazz Quartet's in my former review but it is interesting to note that the group's pianist and main composer, John Lewis, was part of the "Third Stream" experiments of the 1960s, which tried to mix jazz with classical idioms. "Chamber jazz" was already a well-established genre dating back at least to the 1930s' Benny Goodman small groups or those led by John Kirby. Indeed, Kirby's repertoire included jazzed-up versions of pieces by such composers as Grieg, Beethoven and Donizetti. At any rate, this tendency may explain the "classical" elements in much of the Modern Jazz Quartet's work. And the quartet was much more successful than many other attempts at Third Stream, since they never lost the spirit of jazz - thanks especially to Milt Jackson's bluesy vibraphone playing. He blended perfectly with the "classical" lines established by John Lewis's arrangements.

The extrovert drumming of Kenny Clarke tended to keep the MJQ closer to jazz than the classics, but the arrival of the gentler Connie Kay led the way for a subtler approach. Several of the tunes on this album have the quality of chamber jazz - even the opening Ralph's New Blues, composed by Milt Jackson. It is essentially a straightforward blues but it opens with structured interplay between vibes, piano and bass and, as the sleeve-note says, is "based on a modal motive".

Elements of counterpoint are also present in Cole Porter's All of You, which has the thoughtful pace that the MJQ so often achieved. In contrast, I'll Remember April is taken at a breakneck tempo, although with the piano sketching in touches of counterpoint behind the vibraphone. This exciting track belies the image of the quartet as strait-laced and introverted. The Gershwin medley returns us to gentle thoughtfulness, with Percy Heath's bass stating the melody of Soon and definite classical hints in John Lewis's treatment of Love Walked In.

Counterpoint is present right at the start of Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, with Lewis playing a counter-melody behind Milt's vibes. And the closing track Concorde is a fugue which manages to be catchy as well as complex.

The only criticism I have of this album is its stingy length: less than 37 minutes, which is half what you can squeeze onto a compact disc, and a poor comparison with the double CD I previously reviewed - which cost about the same price as this single CD.

Tony Augarde

 

 

 



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