The Modern Jazz Quartet, Germany 1956-58 – Lost Tapes series – Jazz Haus/SWR Music/ArtHaus Musik

by | Oct 23, 2013 | Jazz CD Reviews

The Modern Jazz Quartet, Germany 1956-58 – Lost Tapes series [TrackList follows] – Jazz Haus/SWR Music/ArtHaus Musik mono 101 731, 68:20 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

I recently attended a tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet put on by the Portland Jazz Society, so this fits right in. The quartet, founded in 1952 by pianist John Lewis out of the Dizzy Gillespie Band, confounded styles and fashion to service for 40 years and became the epitome of the jazz chamber music ensemble.  Pianist Darrel Grant had said at the live concert that in his youth he thought of the MJQ as too simple, and basically old white people’s jazz with Lewis’ predilection for elements of Bach and making his quartet all wear tuxes and act like a dignified classical string quartet. But as he got into it, especially for the tribute, he discovered that Lewis’ music was not really simple at all but had all sorts of depth and complexity to it.

As with many black U.S. jazz groups, the popular breakthru for the MJQ came in Europe, in this case around 1957, and it was at this time that they were recorded (in excellent mono fidelity) by jazz editor Joachim-Ernst Berendt of the Baden-Baden radio station. Some of these 13 tracks were also recorded at the Stuttgart radio station. Like all of the more than 3000 hours of jazz recordings made around this time by SWR in Germany, the tapes were files away after broadcast and usually never heard again; until now.

The MJQ’s motto was “Change your attitude,” and on these 13 selections you can easily do that if you are new to the MJQ. The Harald Banter Ensemble joins the quartet on John Lewis’ “Midsommer,” and on the following “Bluesology” and Lewis’ famous “Django” (my personal favorite jazz tune) the group is joined by the entire Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra. Milt Jackson also does a solo vibes version of “Tenderly,” at the suggestion of Berendt.  The usual fine job of remastering and packaging found in this series is present here. What a kick for those of us who hold the MJQ in the highest repute!

Ralph’s New Blues, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Willow Weep for Me, I’ll Remember April, Midsömmer, Bluesology, Django, Sun Dance, Cortége, You Go to my Head, I Can‘t Get Started, Tenderly, J.B.Blues.

—John Henry

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