This CD presents two complete sessions led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson: one where the eventual members of the Modern Jazz Quartet are joined by saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and eight quartet tracks with Thelonious Monk. (The session with Monk is also on the four-CD set The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Monk's output between 1947 and 1952.) The July 2, 1948, date with Monk was recorded eight months after the pianist's first recordings as a leader. Jackson, responding to the demands of Monk's music with his customary fluid grace, is key to these definitive early recordings of "Evidence," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," and "I Mean You." Kenny Hagood -- perhaps best known as the vocalist who sang "Darn That Dream" on Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool -- joins the group on two standards. Hagood impresses as he croons unperturbed over Monk and Jackson, whose busy, intertwining lines make for a pleasantly bizarre accompaniment. The April 7, 1952, date with Donaldson does not have the impact of the tracks with Monk. Donaldson's uncomplicated bop is mildly diverting, but it's the consistently brilliant Jackson who commands the listener's attention. Donaldson lays out on four tracks, including the two takes of the set's highlight, Jackson's "Lillie." Here the vibraphonist effortlessly weaves 16th notes across the ballad's accompaniment by his future MJQ partners. As always, it's not Jackson's speed that impresses, it's his taste, musicianship, and artistry.
AllMusic Review by Jim Todd