Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

233

Milt Jackson: Wizard of the Vibes

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
The pairing of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Blue Note Records seems somehow incongruent. Blue Note was the home of hard bop—blues- and gospel-influenced, down to earth and funky. The MJQ navigated the Third Stream—sophisticated, refined, classically oriented and formal. They even performed in tuxedoes.

But there was a hefty dose of blues to the MJQ's Bach, most of it courtesy of vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Jackson's masterful blues-oriented improvisations are on fine display here on his only Blue Note outing.

The entire membership of what would eventually become the MJQ is present on these recordings. Pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke provide excellent support for Jackson. Filling out the lineup is a young Lou Donaldson playing very Bird-like alto sax.

Jackson is a well-recognized innovator on his instrument—the vital link between the swing era's Lionel Hampton and post-bop's Bobby Hutcherson. And those in the know hail him as a genius-level improviser. Even those who haven't recognized that fact when listening to the MJQ—where Jackson’s improvisational powers were sometimes reined in by Lewis’ compositions—will find it hard to miss in this context.

These sessions came early in Jackson's career—1952—but his playing style is exceptionally well-realized and mature. He plays blazingly fast, his melodic imagination keeping perfect pace with his mallets. His MJQ cohorts provide excellent accompaniment. It's a thoroughly enjoyable session and the only, minor, let down is Lou Donaldson. This was his first of a zillion sessions for Blue Note and his youth shows. Nothing wrong with his Charlie Parker imitations—who better or more difficult to emulate?—but his improvisational skills pale next to Jackson's. Still, only a nitpicker would fail to enjoy these sides, which appear in crystal clear sound thanks to remastering by famed Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

The tunes include a few originals by Jackson including the lovely ballad "Lillie" and an early version of his signature tune "Bag's Groove." A highlight is a very swinging take on Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," featuring Donaldson's best playing on the date.

This entertaining session is augmented the same disk by Jackson's historical July 2, 1948, recording date with Thelonious Monk. The pair, joined by John Simmons on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums, play the earliest versions of Monk's best-known compositions: "Evidence," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," and "I Mean You." On two standards—"All the Things You Are"and "I Should Care"—the group plays backup to stilted, croonerish vocals by Pancho Hagood. Those tunes seem out of place alongside Monk's still very modern-sounding works of genius.

Hearing Monk and Milt work off each other is a true pleasure. What a fascinating contrast—Monk's stop-start, playful quirkiness trading with Jackson's flowing bop blues.

Because it's Monk, and early Monk on Blue Note at that, this CD is a must for those who don't already own the music. It's a vital piece of jazz history and it's a blast to hear.

The only disappointment, to some ears, may be the sound on the Monk portion of the disk. Van Gelder remastered the session from lacquer and there's quite a bit of surface noise. But at the same time all the instruments—bass and drums included—sound very clear and distinct, which might not have been the case had Van Gelder used a heavier hand when cleaning up these recordings. It may be that it's not possible to improve them any further. I certainly trust Van Gelder's ears and judgment. So, if you can listen past some hissing and crackling (I'm probably making it sound worse than it is) you'll enjoy some very fine, very important music.


Track Listing: Tahiti; Lillie; Bag's Groove; What's New; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; On The Scene; Lillie (alt.); What's New (alt.); Don't Get Around Much Anymore (alt.); Evidence; Miserioso; Epistrophy; I Mean You; Misterioso (alt.); All The Things You Are; I Should Care; I Should Care (alt.)

Personnel: Milt Jackson (vibraphone); Kenny "Pancho" Hagood (vocals); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); John Lewis, Thelonious Monk (piano); Percy Heath, John Simmons (bass); Kenny Clarke, Shadow Wilson (drums).

Title: Wizard of the Vibes | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns CD/LP/Track Review Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Song of No Regrets CD/LP/Track Review Song of No Regrets
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Sounding Tears CD/LP/Track Review Sounding Tears
by John Sharpe
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Lighthouse CD/LP/Track Review Lighthouse
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Kill The Boy CD/LP/Track Review Kill The Boy
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Rain or Shine CD/LP/Track Review Rain or Shine
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 15, 2017
Read "Forage" CD/LP/Track Review Forage
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read "Landed in Brooklyn" CD/LP/Track Review Landed in Brooklyn
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 3, 2017
Read "Masters In Bordeaux" CD/LP/Track Review Masters In Bordeaux
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 19, 2017
Read "Mist. Moss. Home." CD/LP/Track Review Mist. Moss. Home.
by Jim Olin
Published: April 10, 2017
Read "The Sky Remains" CD/LP/Track Review The Sky Remains
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 4, 2017
Read "Vars & Kaper:Deconstruction" CD/LP/Track Review Vars & Kaper:Deconstruction
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 29, 2016

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!