Musik 107 037, 59:00, 4:3, PCM stereo/DD 5.1/DTS 5.1, NTSC region 0.
John Lewis, p; Milt Jackson, vib; Percy Heath, b; Connie Kay, d.
Musik 107 033, 57:00, 4:3, PCM stereo/DD 5.1/DTS 5.1, NTSC region 0.
John Lewis, p; Milt Jackson, vib; Percy Heath, b; Mickey Roker, d.
Review by Steve Koenig
When I was a teen, my first encounter with the MJQ gave me the feeling that
their formal clothing extended to their music in an overly serious, dry way.
If I had heard this 35th anniversary date back then, I likely would have had
a totally different reaction. You don't need a few rows of horns to make music
swing. I started to listen to them afresh after they put out a disc on the Beatles'
Apple label (I was mad for anything on Apple; still am). I tend to think of
John Lewis as the head, Milt Jackson as the heart, and Percy Heath and Connie
Kay as the two legs of the MJQ. Tight, yes; unified, yes; stodgy? No way.
Taken from European
television tapes, these recordings look their vintage, and not at all badly.
I listened to them in stereo and the sound is surprisingly vibrant and realistic.
The MJQ 35th, directed
by Gianni Paggi, uses lots of close-ups of mallets, keyboard, and over-the-piano
shots showing all four. A typical and varied set, they open joyously with Duke's
"Rockin' In Rhythm," and follow with Milt Jackson's "Echoes,"
in which the segue from piano to vibraphone is so smooth it seems like the same
brain. The set continues with Lewis' "Django," "Summertime,"
and "Bag's Groove." The closer is the eighteen-minute triptych, John
Lewis' "A Day In Dubrovnik." Afternoon, evening and morning; these
three scenarios are less programmatic than moods; I don't detect any Yugoslavian
ethnic influence here, rather a feeling of the air, sun and crowds; John Lewis
mentions that he sees it as when the tourists arrive, the evening when the city
reveals itself, and the morning when the tourists leave. The playing is sparkling,
and anyone who likes a few or all their Atlantic LPs will want this as well.
It also serves well as a first introduction to the group.
The 40th anniversary
show is a different set, except for the closer, "A Day In Dubovnik."
There are two major differences here. Veteran drummer Mickey Roker, in fine
form, takes the place of Connie Kay, who was ill, and acquits himself well.
Additionally, the quartet is augmented by a chamber orchestra. John Lewis is
an accomplished proponent of third stream music, and has often, done well on
record, but here, the Kammerorchester arcata stuttgart, well as they play, merely
gilds the lily. Even though the pieces are Lewis' compositions "Three Windows"
and "Sketch," with strings, and "Alexander's Fugue," with
winds, the band serves as background to the MJQ; nothing offensive yet nothing
enriching. This impression is further enforced with their adagio from Rodrigo's
Concierto de Aranjuez, where one wishes just for the quartet, especially
when Milt Jackson takes on a deeply riveting vibraphone solo (the Spanish flavor
here is subtler than saffron anyway), and "Dubrovnik," which was so
much more powerful in concept and execution in the 35th anniversary set without
The direction by
Christian Wagner, too, is excellent, with many close-up, and the film is not
overly busy. So, recommended to the MJQ faithful and to those who enjoy excellent
jazz with orchestral backup.