Recent listening, current

Monday, March 4, 2013

50. Modern Jazz Quartet / Fontessa (1956)

Atlantic must have been happy with this debut, because Fontessa is a shot of distilled MJQ magic. It's got one piece from every area the group excelled in: an amalgam of blues and bop, with judicious musicality and nods toward classical forms. Fontessa swings deep and loose, with sharp jabs from Lewis and Milt playing his slick and bluesy best. "Versailles" is a fugal-bop Frankenstein with a seamless transition that starts with interesting counterpoint from Lewis and Jackson, before the band wraps around juicy bass lines from Heath, while Lewis and Jackson throw ideas at each other. "Angel Eyes" is next, a sly ballad with a noirish touch. The elegant, 11-minute suite "Fontessa" closes with a sweep unlike anything else on the record. It is an imaginative interpretation of commedia dell'arte, music having been assigned to each stock character, and each representing a different musical period in the shifting sands of jazz. Reading the notes, it's fun to pick out which moods Lewis chose for each era. Side 2 is a set of contemporary well-knowns but the natural improvisors and provocative interplay make them worth the time. It's a great set with enough ideas to keep experienced listeners interested, and a nice destination if you've had enough of Django lately.

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