Saturday, September 21, 2013

Modern Jazz Quartet – Porgy and Bess

   The pure melodic genius of songwriting and ambition to tell complex, meaningful story gives George Gershwin and his only opera place of crucial importance. The unquestionably position of Porgy and Bess takes its strength from crossover qualities of the work. The work noted as first American national opera was the work based on jazz and Afro-American folk music, perfectly filling the old form with a new soul. It’s difficult to count all performances in original version and in various orchestrations and transcriptions. In 50’s and 60’s virtually every jazz musician played melodies from Gershwin’s opera as standards or set own suite of most popular themes taken from the work. Among many Porgy and Bess versions the one of special power was album signed by Modern Jazz Quartet.
   In history of jazz the instant success and sustained position of Modern Jazz Quartet is rare phenomenon. Starting in 1946 as the side project of musicians playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra, then as Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951, and then changed into MJQ, this ensemble was initially be-bop combo. Pianist and composer John Lewis and Milt Jackson playing vibraphone started it as a pure jazz project and after 1952, with Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums, Modern Jazz Quartet started their own style merging cool jazz and be-bop with elegant third stream with elements of classical music, especially polyphonic ideas of baroque music. 

Modern Jazz Quartet – Porgy and Bess (1965) 

   The instrumental version of Gershwin’s opera in MJQ characteristic cool jazz style was recorded during three days, July 23 and 26 1964 and April 26, 1965. The producer of this album was Nesuhi Ertegun, one of most influential producer in jazz world. Recording session took place in RCA Webster Hall in New York City. Album was published in 1965 in US and Philips label in UK and Netherlands. Next year album republished in US and in Austria. All American editions were pressed under Atlantic label and all European were published by Philips. There was also different title: American album was titled The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, while European edition was The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays the Music from Porgy and Bess. Just like there were two different albums.
   The interesting characteristic of Modern Jazz Quartet was the style of the ensemble. From the very beginning musicians of the quartet tend to create clear and stable sound structures with lots of space for vibraphone chamber sound and minimalistic phrases. Pianist John Lewis was also the composer and musical director, the gray eminence of the quartet. As a front man was sometimes seen Milt Jackson, who was playing the vibraphone or vibraharp as this instrument was called sometime ago. His style of playing was two-mallet grip so he was playing mainly melodic lines with no harmonization, but with precision and elegant touch. Light and transparent structures are also the merit of perfect rhythm section of Percy Heath playing the upper bass and drummer Connie Kay.

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