Teddy Charles / The Prestige Jazz Quartet

Teddy Charles & the Prestige Jazz Quintet

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This debut album by the unfortunately short-lived Prestige Jazz Quartet was a seeming "answer" to the Modern Jazz Quartet. Indeed, even in the original liner notes the comparison gets made -- rather sarcastically -- by Ira Gitler that while the players in the PJQ are as influenced by classical music as the MJQ, they are interested "in the more contemporary developments...with more regard to devices and spirit than actual form." Sure, but what he is really saying is that these cats are pure jazz players who understand the understated dynamic of the MJQ and can make it just as seamless, just as smooth, just as adventurous, and still make it swing like hell. And they do. The four compositions here, one by Teddy Charles, two by Mal Waldron, and one by Thelonious Monk, are all extensions on jazz thought. One can hear the ideas of Miles Davis and Gil Evans in Charles' "Take Three Parts Jazz," with its mode changes and colorful dynamic range -- which are all the greater for having only a quartet to execute them. Waldron -- whose "Meta Waltz" and "Dear Elaine," with their odd meters and drastic melodic interventions (particularly on the waltz where he never breaks time signature but turns it inside out nonetheless) -- may indeed have had ideas of the piano pieces of Webern in his head when he was composing, but it's more likely he was thinking of Art Tatum and Bud Powell. Even on the ballad, the band just steams with his chart; there is an Ellingtonian grace that refers not to form but texture and nuance, with each instrument written into the arrangement as a pillar without which the tune would fall apart. Waldron's pianissimo counterpoint solo in the middle section is stunning in its complexity and taste. The Monk tune, which closes the set, was solid proof that this was a solid jazz quartet from the very beginning. At the outset, Waldron and Charles play different parts of the melody simultanesouly, extending the original harmonic range of the cut by two, and then Waldron comps Charles through a knotty, intricately beautiful solo that slips into Waldron's own. Addison Farmer and Jerry Segal are a more-than-adequate support team in a band that is entirely a rhythm section. They provided the subtlety required for two giants like Charles and Waldron to do their thing. They hold up and extend the reach of each man as a player, particularly Farmer, who cuts through the melodies of these tunes like butter to create basslines that have a life of their own on the other side of harmony, while never losing site of his rhythmic responsibilities. This is as fine a jazz record as you are likely to come by from 1957 (and there were many great ones from that year); it's too bad the band didn't remain together longer to explore further the terrain mapped out on this debut.

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