The music on Wizard of the Vibes features Milt Jackson with the Thelonious Monk Quartet in a 1948 session combined with a 1952 date with his bandmates from the Modern Jazz Quartet (at that time including John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke) along with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who was oddly credited as the leader of the date on the original release, though it clearly seems to be Jackson in charge. The chemistry between Jackson and Monk on classics like "Misterioso," "Evidence," "I Mean You," and "Epistrophy" is immediately apparent, although Kenny "Pancho" Hagood's vocals on the standards "All the Things You Are" and "I Should Care" remain an acquired taste. Jackson introduces three originals on the latter session, including the debut of his highly acclaimed "Bag's Groove," which has long since become one of the most celebrated and popular jazz compositions. Lewis' uncanny musical ESP is evident throughout the session, as he feeds Jackson imaginative lines for his improvisations. Donaldson is enjoyable at times but doesn't always play at a level equal to the rhythm section, resorting to rather run-of-the-mill ideas in some of his improvisations. Milt Jackson's inventive playing throughout both dates makes this an important CD in his considerable discography, so it should be a part of any bop fan's collection.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden