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From the Inside Out

Preludes and Postludes: The Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings

By Published: November 10, 2003

Europe & The Blues
Prestige/Pablo flows into the “third stream” with jazz tributes to European classical music, people, and cities. “The Queen’s Fancy” sounds very “old Europe” in its ornate, formal sound and movement. “Sacha’s March” sounds like an eastern European formal dance piece, with Lewis and Jackson providing pomp and circumstance to the affair. “Sacha” is immediately followed by “That Slavic Smile,” a romantic poem written by Lewis for his wife; Jackson mostly plays accompanist here, hanging soft blue figures under whose shade Lewis casts his solo. Both principals sound romantic in two strolls through “Milano,” especially Jackson, whose long, slow, lush and mellow notes suggest Chet Baker.

Through everything, Jackson, Lewis, Heath and Kay never forget the simple joy of swinging the blues. “Ralph’s New Blues” sounds like Basie, especially the economy in Lewis’ piano playing and the irresistible swing of Jackson, who sounds like he will simply never run out of melodic ideas. Basie also echoes through Lewis in the first “Really True Blues,” then he funks up the edges with a gospel, Les McCann feel in his opening and mid-song solo to its second performance.

Topsy: This One’s for Basie (1985)

In a 1992 interview, Lewis described the Quartet: “We tried to make it a reflection of this country, the ideal reflection that it should be a democracy, where the group takes advantage of the best of the abilities of each of the participants.” This is exemplified by “La Ronde Suite,” Lewis’ four-movement piece which sequentially spotlights himself, then Heath, Jackson, and Kay. But this concept served as the driving force behind their five decades of consistent excellence. As Prestige/Pablo demonstrates, this whole was always greater than the sum of its considerable parts.

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