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A Quartet Is a Quartet Is a Quartet

The Modern Jazz Quartet

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Album Review

Illustrated with painterly graphics and titled with a paraphrase of Gertrude Stein's most famous trope, the album A Quartet Is a Quartet Is a Quartet might well be the most unusual entry in the entire MJQ discography. Recorded in New York City on May 17, 1963, tracks 1-4 are perfectly in line with other Atlantic MJQ albums of similar vintage, particularly The Sheriff. Yet the inclusion of non-jazz performed by other musicians (a bracingly astringent opus by Anton Webern and a sanguine medley of "Hungarian Gypsy" airs and dances) is a most unusual twist. Of course Percy Heath had recorded with Don Cherry and John Coltrane in 1960, and a Gunther Schuller third stream chamber jazz album featuring Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman was released under Lewis' name in 1961. These adventures demonstrated a keen interest in the advanced traditions of 20th century art music, but even for listeners accustomed to the multi-genre transitions of latter-day listening options, this album's extended "Hungarian Gypsy" finale might come as a bit of a surprise. The key to the puzzle may be found in a recording session which took place in Turin, Italy on January 17, 1962. On that occasion, John Lewis assembled a small orchestra combining the Quartetto di Milano with various other European artists including Romani bassist Jozsef Paradi. The results were used in the soundtrack for Eriprando Visconti's film Una Storia Milanese which starred Enrico Thibaut & Danielle Gaubert, and may be heard on the Atlantic LP A Milanese Story which contains a slightly longer version of "Winter Tale." It is intriguing to compare the Quartetto Milano's reading of Webern's pensive, moody, angular, dissonant work with the definitive Phillips recording by the established and perhaps more virtuosic Quartetto Italiano. Although Webern's Five Movements for String Quartet Op.5 was composed back in 1909, it may still be regarded as one of the great challenging staples of modern chamber music, despite the fact that Hollywood has long since co-opted the form as a non-diegetic soundtrack device used to put people on edge during suspenseful movie scenes. As art music, Webern's Op.5 continues to speak strongly to the human condition. Certainly violinists Giulio Franzetti and Enzo Porta, violist Tito Riccardi, and Alfredo Riccardi did their best to rise to the occasion, and their encounter with Webern is perhaps more challenging than their Tudor recordings of more conventional old-fashioned works by Franz Krommer and Joseph Joachim Raff. If the sensibilities of Jerome Kern and the cool qualities embodied in Milt Jackson and the MJQ contrast strongly with the Webern, the Hungarian Gypsy Quartet's nine-minute medley pulls the listener in yet another direction. Listen carefully to the blended tones and textures as that Romani ensemble's cimbalom operator mingles with violist János Rigó and bassist Jozsef Paradi, both of whom had participated in Lewis's"Milano Story" session of 1962. In 1997, Paradi would crop up on the Ando Drom ensemble's album Gypsy Life on the Road. And after decades of languishing in obscurity A Quartet Is a Quartet Is a Quartet" was reissued by Wounded Bird Records in 2009.

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...
Full bio
A Quartet Is a Quartet Is a Quartet, The Modern Jazz Quartet
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  • 4,99 €
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Hard Bop
  • Released: 17 May 1963

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