The Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings

The Modern Jazz Quartet

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The Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings Review

by Thom Jurek

In typical Fantasy Records aplomb, this four-CD set collects the eight albums which the Modern Jazz Quartet either mentored or collaborated on during their tenure at the commencement and nadir of their reign as jazz's premier chamber ensemble. Beginning with the 1952 issue of Modern Jazz Quartet/Milt Jackson Quintet recording (the earlier Milt Jackson Quartet sides are not here for obvious reasons, as the band did not commence its fully developed form on them) featuring original drummer Kenny Clarke before Connie Kay replaced him, and ending with This One's For Basie in 1985; the association the MJQ had with Prestige was a monumental one. Signified on the band's first full-length outing included here, Django, were the quiet power and majesty the group would later showcase on its Atlantic recordings, MJQ, Fontessa, and the soundtrack for No Sun In Venice. More importantly, the band's run on Prestige showcased not only the roots of the chamber jazz sound, but a harder-edged swing than was displayed on the more expansive recordings on Atlantic. From the almost novel and humorous asides of "The Queen's Fancy," to the funkier, grittier side of the band displayed with Sonny Rollins as a guest on "No Moe," MJQ were always about swing and blues. Discs One and Two showcase the early days of the band on their debut, Django, with Sonny Rollins and Concorde recordings. Concorde is a pinnacle, and reveals John Lewis' writing and arranging to have opened up and embraced all of classical music's dynamic spectrum, while keeping the restraint of swing and the expressionism of the blues in full view. The more regal sound is the one that informed virtually all of the group's Atlantic sides in the years to come. But Concorde and Django are simply two of the first recordings that the label issued during the early 1950s. Discs Three and Four represent four Pablo albums: The Reunion at Budokan in 1981, Together Again at Montreux Jazz in 1982, Echoes from 1984, and finally, This One's For Basie. These sides offer a much more mannered and ritualistic side of MJQ, one that had its critics but nonetheless swung hard and took chances, particularly in their live encounters. There is a caveat, however, as has become typical of the Fantasy boxed sets: Perhaps they should be titled the complete "released" recordings, since there is only one unreleased track in the bunch, the deep sixed 16th alternate take of "Rockin' In Rhythm," from Topsy: This One's For Basie. Really, what is the label waiting for? Fans, no doubt, have most if not all of this material anyway, and there needs to be -- besides an excellent package, sets of liner notes by Eugene Holley and Chris Sheridan -- a definitive edition that includes the process-takes this band recorded to get to the final version: MJQ were nothing if not perfectionists. Still, it's a somewhat small complaint to have all of this material in one place and juxtaposed so brilliantly between the young jazz rebels and the celebrated masters.

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