on 10 December 2010
The MJQ might be destined always to divide opinion. In Milt Jackson they had one of that select handful of key vibraphone players in the history of jazz, and in John Lewis they had one of the surprisingly few modern jazz piano players / composers who consciously looked beyond the parameters of the music as they stood in the 1940s, `50s and `60s for inspiration and clues as to how the music could evolve. Add to this the fact that Jackson's work outside the group was blessed with invigorating drive and a sense of swing akin to a force of nature, two qualities he only infrequently brought to bear in his work with the MJQ, and you've the potential for controversy right there, especially in view of what might be described as the group's polite take on modern jazz.
But this is the 21st century and the jazz police don't have quite the same influence that they used to. This is what comes of people thinking for themselves and for anyone to whom that comes as second nature this album has many qualities.
"Lonely Woman" itself is melodically as enigmatic as "Round Midnight". In the hands of this quartet it becomes even more subtly nuanced, with Jackson in particular fashioning something extraordinary out of the essentially broody nature of Ornette Coleman's composition.
Lewis's "Animal Dance" covers a lot of ground even while it gives Jackson the chance to show that drive over the sly persistence of bass player Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay, a musician who lent buoyancy to the inventions of Paul Desmond and Jim Hall in the quartet they fronted.
Gary McFarland's "Why Are You Blue" might lack the question mark but that doesn't detract from the quality of the music, which has the effect of coming on like background music for wine bars on one level, whilst on another it highlights how subtly empathetic the understanding was between Lewis and Jackson. The latter turns in an exquisite solo too, teasing out as he does the music's blues element, something which in lesser hands might have got lost beneath the display of lyrical eloquence.
Ultimately the MJQ could be held up as an example of how far jazz was able to go even while it swung, which it always would with Jackson present. Whilst this title throws little light on the truly impressionistic music this band was capable of it's a recorded example of an extraordinarily cohesive unit.