Classical Jazz Quartet

The Classical Jazz Quartet Plays Bach

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The Classical Jazz Quartet -- Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Stefon Harris on vibraphone and marimba, and Lewis Nash on drums -- seems to begin where the Modern Jazz Quartet of the 1950s left off, right down to the CJQ initials that seem to evoke memories of the earlier group. Bach was the staple of the classical-music treatments the MJQ released. This group of jazz all-stars extends the work of its predecessors in several ways, one of which is that it has released album-length programs devoted to the music of several different individual composers, including Rachmaninov. It is thus with this Bach album that the group can most directly be compared with the MJQ. One additional difference that emerges is the more fully collaborative quality of the CJQ; the MJQ essentially followed the vision of pianist John Lewis, with a vital dimension of tension supplied by vibraphonist Milt Jackson. On The Classical Jazz Quartet Play Bach, each player seems to have the chance to take the lead (or perhaps is given the chance by arranger Bob Belden). The album opens with the Jesu, joy of man's desiring melody played on the bass by Ron Carter, and throughout he gets to do much more than provide a walking or running jazz bass line. Some tracks, such as the final Air, come close to the MJQ's basic bebop-ification of Bach's steady harmonic progressions, but others use Bach's music as the takeoff point for textural experiments or the incorporation of ethnic sounds -- hear the slow movement of the Oboe Concerto in A minor, BWV 1055, with its Latin tinge. The end result is a varied program that should appeal to anyone who loved the MJQ in its heyday, or who is interested in the long history of interaction between the jazz and classical spheres, although those coming to this album from the classical side should note that it is a jazz release, not a jazz-inflected performance of Bach's works.

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