The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays for Lovers

The Modern Jazz Quartet

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The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays for Lovers Review

by Lindsay Planer

This compilation contains eight romantically themed cover tunes from the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), whose personnel included Milt Jackson (vibraphone), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums), who was replaced in mid-'55 by Connie Kay (drums). The cuts come from several assorted sessions between 1952 and 1955; as such the selections can also be found on the respective long-players MJQ (1954), Django (1955) and Concorde (1955). The earliest entries hail from December of 1952. Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" commences with a haunting Eastern-flavored introduction that caresses the limber reading, immediately establishing the combo's refined instrumental interaction. This is followed by a spirited rendition of Duke Ellington's "Rose of the Rio Grande" which demonstrates their ability to swing with sophistication and dexterity. From late December 1953 are the tranquil and sublime renderings of "Autumn in New York" and "But Not for Me." Both are nothing short of essential when exploring the achingly poignant inflections inherent in Jackson's dreamy vibes. The final four numbers are from a July 1955 date that was not only the first to feature Kay, but also produced the MJQ's debut long-player, Concorde (1955). Cole Porter's "All of You" takes on a noir sentiment, glistens around the sturdy rhythm section. "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" is approached with a classically-tinged Third Stream feel, separating the version heard here from all other standard jazz or pop remakes. The extended "Gershwin Medley" includes "Soon," "For You, For Me Forevermore," "Love Walked In" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." The familiar milieu of the melodies is the perfect platform for the MJQ to unfurl their unique (and arguably unmatched) blend of performance precision with the equally refined skills of arrangers at the apex of their craft. They weave a powerfully musical statement that both defines their capabilities as well as the MJQ's nuevo interpretive attitude. At the risk of sounding maudlin, post be-bop jazz does not get much better than this collection -- which can only be bested when returned to the original context of these recordings on the aforementioned MJQ (1954), Django (1955) and Concorde (1955).

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