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An Introduction To The Modern Jazz Quartet, Vol. 1

The Modern Jazz Quartet

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Album Review

This EP collects a handful of selections from three separate Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) dates circa 1954 and 1955. These recordings actually cross between the Kenny Clarke (drums) and Connie Kay (drums) eras; in fact, Kay's first session contained the reading of "I'll Remember April" which kicks off Modern Jazz Quartet, Vol. 2 (1955). Rather than re-creating the standard ballad, they accelerate a tempo that courses right down the center of the rhythm section, immediately heralding Kay's effortless and impeccable timing. The remainder of the MJQ, Milt Jackson (vibraphone), John Lewis (piano) and Percy Heath (bass) likewise rise to the occasion, exerting some of their most sinuous and assertive communications to date. "Django" contrasts with the airy and enigmatic tune that recalls the work of guitarist Django Reinhardt, to whom Lewis dedicates his composition. The cover of Dizzy Gillespie's "One Bass Hit" is understated and refined, taking the song to a less conspicuous place as the familiar melody weaves around Heath's pulsating and focused runs. The languid and tranquil "Milano" is a scintillating ballad that remains at once discreet, yet provides an unquestionably palpable opulence. One of the focal points of this volume is the extended four-part "La Ronde Suite." Here the MJQ are provided with the unique opportunity to solo and accompany simultaneously, as each player takes the lead in what are essentially four disparate improvisations and well placed instrumental interactions. Modern enthusiasts can find these sides — along with a host of additional sessions cuts — on the respective Prestige long players, MJQ and Django. Both titles are heartily recommended for MJQ and other post-bop jazz fans.

Biography

Formed: 1952

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke first came together as the rhythm section of the 1946 Dizzy Gillespie & His Orchestra and they had occasional features that gave the overworked brass players a well-deserved rest. They next came together in 1951, recording as the Milt Jackson Quartet. In 1952, with Percy Heath taking Brown's place, the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) became a permanent group. Other than Connie Kay succeeding Clarke in 1955, the...
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