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Complete Atlantic Studio Modern Jazz Quartet 1956-64 (#249)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
“The new drummer (Connie Kay) was relatively unknown and his predecessor was one of the most influential of modern drummers. Delightful as the group had sounded before, it sounded even better now because at last it had achieved that unity of feeling and purpose which Lewis had spoke of and which breathes the life blood of true art into the performance, making it a living thing existing on its own, over and above the individual parts.” - Ralph Gleason, San Francisco Chronicle
This set is on backorder and is expected to be early 2017
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
7 CDs - $119.00
That sound. One group conceived it. Defined it. Perfected it. The Modern Jazz Quartet was certainly one of the most distinctive voices in the history of jazz, thanks to the unique qualities of personal expression and collective vision of its members Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Connie Kay (who had replaced original drummer Kenny Clarke by the time the band started recording this music).
They were also exceptionally prolific during their tenure at Atlantic Records, producing 14 albums in eight years. And now, that MJQ sound gets the complete respect it deserves, thanks to our new box, The Complete 1956-1964 Modern Jazz Quartet Atlantic Studio Recordings.
For each of the 14 albums included on this set, our audio expert Ron McMaster worked from original tapes in order to draw out the best sonic properties possible, and achieved his goal of revealing subtle nuances that matched MJQ's own attention to detail. Finally, recorded sound worthy of the music it’s reproducing.
Controversial In Their Era
By forging an ensemble sound all their own – one that featured countermelodies and rhythmic byplay between the co-leaders Jackson and Lewis, rather than the more traditional soloist-with-accompanying-chords – the band members managed to ignite a controversy regarding their intent and whether it was jazz at all. Some argued that their cool, structured approach removed all the jazz from The Modern Jazz Quartet. The notion seems silly now, as anyone listening to these recordings today will discover. These men simply had the audacity and curiosity to interpret music the way they wanted to explore it, rather than subscribe to a style that was in vogue at the time.
The band’s style originated when Jackson, Lewis, bass player Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke comprised the rhythm section for Dizzy Gillespie’s 1946 big band. They would remain on stage during set breaks designed to give the horn players’ lips a rest, and even recorded as The Milt Jackson Quartet. With personnel shifts, they evolved into an organization as comfortable with the influences of European chamber music as they were with jams in dusky after-hours clubs.
As for the musicians individually, they were four exceptional, highly experienced jazz masters. In addition to his tenure with Gillespie, Jackson had also performed with Howard McGee, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and more. He is without question one of the most accomplished instrumentalists ever to hold a set of mallets, whose solos were complex rhythmically, employed dramatic shifts in dynamic attack, and coaxed a lovely tone from an instrument that for others becomes harsh and mechanical. He is also responsible for some of the most venerated compositions in the standard jazz catalog.
Lewis – who had also performed with Parker, as well as Lester Young, Miles Davis, Illinois Jacquet and Ella Fitzgerald – created an intoxicatingly gentle sound on piano, highly uncharacteristic of someone with a bebop pedigree. His light approach was a perfect support for the far flashier Jackson, as he picked out moments to accentuate with a counter melody or a complementary line. As the band’s principal writer, he also helped establish their sound.
Heath was another veteran of Miles, Parker, and Monk, and had played as well with Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, and Clifford Brown. Secure, firm, flowing – he was the guy you wanted on bass when you needed someone to build your ideas around.
And Kay was another bop professional who had worked his way through associations with Young, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Parker, and Davis. His style was relaxed and sparse – the voice of a seasoned and respectful listener. He rarely soloed, but thanks to his interest in a wide battery of percussion instruments, he had all the tools to support Lewis’ compositional aspirations.
The Complete Package
Analyzing all this music for us is Doug Ramsey, who has won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalists Association and is the author of "Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond." His essay in our exclusive Mosaic booklet ranges across the band’s music, history, inner workings, and how the personality of each member contributed to the success of the band’s concept.
Among the photographs we secured for our booklet are a number of previously unpublished photographs by Clemons Kalischer of the MJQ at Music Inn in Lenox, Mass. There has never been a package like this one, and it’s quite likely there never will be again.
Read More About Modern Jazz Quartet:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
- Audio Quality
- Sample Session Notes
For each of the 14 albums included on this set, Ron McMaster has been able to return to the original master tapes and draw out the best sound with attention to sonic details that matches MJQ's trademark attention to msucial detail.
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Modern Jazz Quartet
Among the photographs that grace the booklet of this set are a number of previously unpublished photographs by Clemons Kalischer of the MJQ at Music Inn in Lenox, Mass., recording, performing with Sonny Rollins and jamming with Jimmy Giuffre.
(G & H) Music Inn, Lenox, Massachusetts, August 3 & 31, 1958
Following a year of intensive touring, which had become their way of life (Lewis to Hall: “I’m never home anyway”), the MJQ was back at Music Inn to combine rest and recreation with another summer session of the School of Jazz. They recorded music that, much like that in The Modern Jazz Quartet album of a year earlier, consisted of pieces with which they had become comfortable by way of thorough road testing. The medley, with its ingenious transitions between segments, is primarily a vehicle for Jackson’s inquisitive exploration of three great standard songs. It includes Lewis’s compelling countermelodies. As Gerry Mulligan liked to point out, YARDBIRD SUITE is one of Charlie Parker’s most song-like compositions. Exposition of the familiar melody is shared in fragments around the quartet. There is a pointillist chorus with Heath standing by before the piece devolves into a notably economical Lewis solo. Then Heath and Kay get their licks in, Jackson kibitzes, and Lewis’s arrangement closes with a rapid-fire canon.
MIDSUMMER, slow, and FESTIVAL SKETCH, sprightly, were new Lewis compositions, lightly harmonized to leave generous room for reflective invention by John and Bags. Connie’s and Percy’s rhythmic unity is amazing here.
For the first time since they had recorded together for a memorable Prestige album in 1953, Sonny Rollins joined the Modern Jazz Quartet in concert at Music Inn. When I quoted Gunther Schuller’s observation that “Sonny was in one of his more whimsical and sardonic moods that night,” Rollins laughed at length. “Well, that’s great,” he told me,” still chuckling. “I haven’t heard that record in years and years and years. I usually shrink when I hear my own recordings, but I remember that the last time I heard it I didn’t shrink so much.
“When Milt first came to New York, we played at Minton’s Playhouse. We hung out a lot. I knew Percy maybe even a little better than the others, we played together so much, and I was close friends with Connie Kay. I heard John with Charlie Parker and he accompanied Lester Young, so that’s when I became aware of his soloing. And he’s a great writer. It was great fun just to be playing with musicians of that caliber,” he said. “Considering the success that they’d been having around that period, it was a real boon for them to ask me to do something with them.”
In his notes for The Modern Jazz Quartet At Music Inn/Volume 2, Schuller says of Rollins, “On both tracks, we hear him fooling around with little motives, toying with them and his instrument—almost as a cat will with a mouse—spoofing and kidding, at times facetious and at others pleasantly jocose. Sonny’s unwavering insistence on being funny produces a very interesting by-play of reactions in the Quartet. Milt and Connie buckle down to some real great, swinging—Milt specially in his own BAGS’ GROOVE and Connie in TUNISIA. Percy occasionally joins the fun, as in BAGS’ GROOVE, where he plays, for instance, a typical ‘oom-pah’ bass line which could be, except for its funky swing, straight out of some hotel band.”
Schuller’s unerring ear picks up nuances in the accompaniment that help in understanding something of the mentality of improvising jazz musicians and their ability to adjust. “John’s reactions are more complex,” he writes. “In BAGS’ GROOVE, when Rollins enters with humorously disjointed parodies of Milt’s theme, John prods him soberly with beautiful understated chords. After three choruses he realizes that Rollins will not be swayed, and ‘joins in’ with little discordant semi-tone ‘bleeps,’ which he later develops into a relentlessly building, insinuating rhythmic figure, which Sonny finally can no longer resist. He almost becomes serious for a few choruses, only to return eventually to the prevailing punning mood.”
At the end of our conversation in 2011, Sonny wanted to make a point about the MJQ and about nostalgia. “They’re a great group,” he said, “and I miss them very much. But I’m not a person to wallow in what used to be. The old days were great. Today is great also.”
“Tomorrow is better,” I said.
“Tomorrow is better,” Sonny said with a smile. “Tomorrow is better.”
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"Well, the big winner in this set is John Lewis whose piano is now crisp, bright and the interaction between Lewis and Milt is even more of a wonder...This is one of the most impressive remastering jobs of any jazz recording I've ever heard."
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