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MJQ reissues are timeless classics

By Greg Cahill

The Modern Jazz Quartet
European Concert
(Atlantic/Label M)

The Modern Jazz Quartet with Laurindo Almeida
Collaboration
(Atlantic/Label M)

In the past two years, death has silenced the phenomenal talent of three-quarters of the Modern Jazz Quartet, first drummer Connie Kay, then vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and most recently, pianist John Lewis. Their passing, after 50 years of creating some of the most influential and vibrant music of the jazz era, makes the reissue of these two classic albums all the more notable.

During the 1950s, when Miles Davis and John Coltrane were exploring the fringes of jazz with a sound that many found too demanding, MJQ lured listeners with a more structured approach that nonetheless required the group's members reach new levels of improvisation. It's a real blessing to have these albums, particularly the digitally remastered European Concert, recorded in Scandinavia in 1960 and considered by many to be MJQ's finest recording. Despite the formality, the result is often soothing--as on Lewis' composition "Vendome"--or hitting a hipster groove, as with the Hilton original "The Cylinder." Ultimately, as these albums prove, their music was graceful, sometimes even delicate, frequently beautiful, and always stimulating, drifting on the ethereal sonics of Jackson's peerless vibes playing.

Collaboration is less satisfying, though there are many fine moments and the album overall is an interesting melding of two cultures. It marked the first time that MJQ had worked with Brazilian guitarist Almeida--then a budding twentysomething wunderkind--and was recorded in 1964 at RCA's Webster Hall in New York City. The project, originally intended for a performance at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival, is noteworthy because it moves beyond the bossa nova craze of that period to encompass a broad range of styles and compositions, from Bach's "Fugue in A Minor" to Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba" to a trio of Lewis jazz compositions.

Kudos to Label M chief executive and former Atlantic producer Joel Dorn for doggedly pursuing the licensing for these two welcomed reissues.

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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