VOICES Notes and news on Jazz releases
23 JUL 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Pianist John Lewis was sometimes criticized for the classical formalism with which he helped to lead The Modern Jazz Quartet. But Lewis' formal structures also built inventive frameworks through which he, vibes ace Milt "Bags" Jackson and the rest of the Quartet could passionately swing. Many such structures decorate the landscape of 1955's Django (Prestige) which thoroughly proves that, even within such polite confines, the MJQ could rock the house.
"Delaunay's Dilemma" shimmers with the lustrous sound of master musicians who instinctively weave their individual talents together into a single melodic voice, while the boppish blues bounce "One Bass Hit" reaches back to the band's roots as the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie's big band. But Django centers upon Lewis' elegy for Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his "La Ronde Suite," four movements crafted to feature each player as a solo voice. Encasing its jazz center within a fugue, "The Queen's Fancy" overflows with style and emerges as a true triumph of the "jazz meets classical" form.
Django captures drummer Kenny Clarke's final Quartet recordings before he became a European expatriate, and is one of three landmark MJQ albums from this most fertile period: Prestige released Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet, which captured the groundbreaking tenor's first sessions as a leader, in 1954, and also released Concorde, the Quartet's first recordings with new drummer Connie Kay, in 1955. Both Django and Concorde were released into the RVG Remaster Series in 2008.