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MODERN JAZZ QUARTET. 35th Anniversary Tour:
Live From The Zelt-Musik-festival, Freiburg, 1987.

ArtHaus 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.

MODERN JAZZ QUARTET. 40th Anniversary Tour:
Live From The Jazzgipfel, Stuttgart, 1992.

ArtHaus 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.

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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.

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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 orchestra.

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.

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