Modern Jazz Quartet – Fontessa (stereo 1956) & Pyramid (stereo 1959/60) [TrackLists follow] – Atlantic/ Pristine Audio 48K/24-bit FLAC (also avail. in other formats) PAJZ 011, 74:04 *****:
(John Lewis, piano & music director; Milt Jackson, vibes; Percy Heath, doublebass; Connie Kay, drums)
To have these two early MJQ sessions in excellent stereo added to my large MJQ collection of CDs and LPs has been a pleasure since they’re my favorite jazz group. I thought I had the Atlantic mono LP of Fontessa but it turned out I didn’t. There were many problems with the early stereo tapes made at the session, and though some discs did get released, the mono was the preferred one. Pristine’s Andrew Rose did major work on the original stereo tapes, removing heavy electrical hum, thumps, bumps, hiss and other problems. Also, since the original studio recording sounded extremely dead, he had to add some judicious reverberation, and employing some of the magic which professional digital remastering can now achieve, he simulated the acoustics of NYC‘s Birdland, where the MJQ played on various occasions. I downloaded the FLAC files from the Pristine site and burned them directly to a DVD-R, which my Oppo deck can handle, but you can select WAV or AIFF files if you wish (or even MP3s if you desire, God forbid).
Even though the four members of this aggregation were known for their ability to wail when needed in other groupings (they had come out of Dizzy’s big band), when they donned their tuxes and became the Modern Jazz Quartet a different sort of classically-influenced chamber jazz became their stock in trade and an amazing musical mood was created that lasted for many decades.
I started out with a Fantasy OJC mono CD that was only partially devoted to the MJQ. It was fine but rather muffled-sounding and without depth. Then I put on the amazing 11-minute classic title track to Fontessa on this Pristine remastering, and there was a much greater clarity, depth and wider frequency range. Remember this is from the early days of stereo so there’s quite a bit of left and right channel primacy, very wide separation, and often a hole in the middle. John Lewis is over on the right channel and Jackson on the left. Both of the first tracks of the Fontessa session have high bells in them, and the clarity of the extremely high frequencies is a delight. For me, the beauty of the lengthy Fontessa track is only equaled by their many versions of John Lewis’ classic “Django,” of which one is heard on the Pyramid album. There is a very slight bit of distortion on the Lewis’ piano on the first album, but not troublesome. Jackson’s lovely and clean tones on “Over the Rainbow” are a pleasure on this session.
The separation is not as wide and the two channels are reversed on the Pyramid album tracks here. Lewis is now on the left and Jackson on the right channel. The piano sounds cleaner and clearer. A bit of each of the channels is mixed into the opposite one, which wasn’t audible on the first album. The MJQ recorded Lewis’ “Vendome” on the mono OJC session in 1952, so I compared it to the “Vendome” on this album. The 1952 is a bit better musically, with more improvisation by Jackson, but without the greater depth and clarity of the stereo spread. I found that the stereo remasterings of both albums decoded well using ProLogic IIz height on my preamp.
Fontessa: Versailles, Angel Eyes, Fontessa, Over the Rainbow, Bluesology, Willow Weep for Me, Woody ‘n You
Pyramid: Vendome, Pyramid (Blues for Junior), It Don’t Mean a Thing, Django, High High the Moon, Romaine