With post-bop and free now serving as the primary currencies of innovation the term ‘modernist’ has somewhat dated connotations in today’s jazz speak. Back in the 1950s however the radical advancements of Be-Bop had largely gained acceptability amongst all but the most resolute moldy fig members of the jazz intelligentsia. Modernist players and composers were searching for new directions and fresh soil to plant their roots in. Musicians like Teddy Charles, Mal Waldron, Jimmy Giuffre and John Lewis looked toward Classical and folk forms for inspiration. The Prestige Jazz Quartet was a direct outgrowth of these explorations. Solely a studio aggregation they were initially something of a replacement for the recently absconded Modern Jazz Quartet. While similar in instrumentation their music was decidedly different, delving to more recent innovations in classical and conservatory forms instead of lionizing earlier ones. Debuting as the back-up band for saxophonist (and later producer) Teo Macero, they cut this captivating session several months later.
The album is largely dominated by the opening multi-sectional piece, three parts interlocking into a suite-like whole. Each part can stand-alone or together as evidenced by other versions of the first two: “Route 4” and “Lyriste” recorded by other groups on other albums. Another fascinating reading of “Route 4” is available on Coltrane’s Dakar with an unusual two baritone, tenor frontline. “Lyriste” is also afforded an unorthodox run through on the recently reissued Curtis Fuller & Hampton Hawes With French Horns date. Moving from the fast paced first section, through a meditative middle to a fast tempoed close a wealth of melodic and harmonic ideas are unveiled. Waldron’s geometric “Meta-Waltz” advances the modernist sentiments, whereas his “Dear Elaine,” a dreamy ballad dedicated to his wife, redirects the group onto less probing terrain. Closing out with the appropriately threadbare “Friday the 13th” the four men are allowed generous room to improvise. Charles malleted planks sound particularly luminous and invest the group with a warm glow.
The Prestige Jazz Quartet was relatively short-lived as a regular recording entity, soon morphing into the more dynamic sounding Teddy Charles New Directions Quartet. But even with their truncated longevity this date and the earlier debut with Macero are both well worth considering. Perhaps not ‘modernist’ by today’s terminology, they more than likely bent a few ears when they were waxed.
Personnel: Teddy Charles- vibes; Mal Waldron- piano; Addison Farmer- bass; Jerry Segal- drums. Recorded: June 22, 1957, Hackensack, NJ.