Collaboration // The Modern Jazz Quartet With Laurindo Almeida (Atlantic SD 1429)

If it’s cool jazz, but comes from the East Coast, is it still cool jazz?  The Modern Jazz Quartet sure played as cool and as relaxed as any West Coast group during the 1950’s, but somehow avoided the scathing criticism that most West Coast groups endured.  At any rate, Milt Jackson’s cooking vibes and John Lewis’ spare piano combined with the bass and drums to create a hugely popular sound.  Team them with an equally tasty guitarist and you have an interesting match-up.

The Music


Tune:  ‘One Note Samba’

Recorded 21 July, 1964 in New York City

Personnel:

  • Laurindo Almeida-  Acoustic Guitar
  • Milt Jackson-  Vibraharp
  • John Lewis-  Piano
  • Percy Heath-  Bass
  • Connie Kay-  Drums

Brought together for a project for the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival in California, Brazilian guitarist was asked by John Lewis to tour with the Modern Jazz Quartet as a featured soloist, a partnership that lasted from February of ’64 to July when this album was recorded.  Almeida came to the states as a young man and by the 1950’s was making waves with Stan Kenton’s orchestra, and during the ’50’s made what many consider to be the first Brazil-meets-jazz album with Bud Shank.  Well-versed in both classical music and Latin music, he fit with the MJQ, and as this album shows their partnership was quite fruitful.  In fact, the somewhat infamous Allmusic music critic Scott Yannow gave the album 9 out of 10 stars, adding that the album’s music is “very memorable”.  He singles out ‘One Note Samba’ for specific praise.  This track is the main reason why I bought the album, having heard a live version of it on YouTube.  It’s easily the grooviest cut on the album, opening up the second side in grand fashion.  Almeida’s solo intro recalls a Flamenco guitarist, then slips into a swinging bossa nova with the rest of the group.  Milt Jackson gets to cooking within his first few bars, and I kinda wish he took another chorus.  John Lewis’ tasty, sparse piano solo cooks along in its own quiet way, and again I wish he had taken a second chorus.  Percy Heath’s bass provides the pulse of the group, and Connie Kay’s drums support the entire thing.  Paul Desmond once said about Connie that if he didn’t exist, he would be too perfect to be imagined by anybody.  All in all, it’s one of the better examples of bossa nova from the mid-1960’s, when the bossa nova craze was at it’s peak.

The rest of the album consists of standard MJQ material, like an almost-straight reading of Bach’s ‘Fugue In A Minor’, a few originals by John Lewis, and beautiful reading of the classic work ‘Concierto De Aranjuez’ written by Joaquin Rodrigo and recorded by Miles Davis for his ‘Sketches of Spain’ album.  As for head-bobbing music, ‘One Note Samba’ and ‘Valeria’ on the first side are the only cuts that got me moving.  That’s the thing about the MJQ.  They made some wonderful music, but as for swinging?  Well, they’d include a tune or two in their program to remind you what they were capable of.  Milt Jackson griped at one point that he could never stretch out and wail on his vibes much in the context of this group, which may account for his many appearances on other jazz musician’s record dates.

Like I said, I saw a live-ish version of ‘One Note Samba’ on YouTube, and for fun and comparison’s sake, included it here.  It’s from a television appearance on the old British TV show ‘Jazz 625’.  Not sure what significance 625 has.  Maybe a British reader can educate us in the comment section?

The Cover

FullSizeRender (89)College Jazz Collector Rating:  C-

It’s rather boring.  The most interesting part about the cover, the painting, is rather small and unassuming.  The title takes up most of the space.  It’s a weak cover.  I guess they figured the names of the artists would make up for the lack of pizazz.  Unfortunately the record store I bought this record at put the price tag directly on the cover.  I tried to take it off, but part of cover began to come off, too.  Why oh why do record store people do this?

 The Back

fullsizerender-90.jpgLeonard Feather, one of the big wigs of 20th-century jazz criticism and literature, writes a fine set of liner notes, as most people seem to do when writing notes for a Modern Jazz Quartet album.  The album has some fierce ring-wear, but I’m not one to care too deeply about that.

The Vinyl

 

I lucked out with a first-edition Atlantic stereo album with the green and blue label with the black fan.  It’s non-deep groove, typical of releases after 1961.  Atlantic had quite a roster of musicians throughout it’s long existence.  Shorty Rodgers, Lee Konitz, Ray Charles, and nowadays Bruno Mars all have numerous records made by Atlantic.  Considering the condition of the record cover, the record itself is in almost perfect condition.  It plays quietly with some delicious crackles that don’t overpower the music at all.  Such is the joys of flipping through the bins at a record store.

The Place of Acquisition

This was yet another album that I found at the Amoeba record store in San Francisco last August.  It was a great outing and I found numerous albums for perfect prices, like this one for $3.00.  You never know how good the record is until you take it home (or test it on the store’s record player if you’re super serious), and this was a pleasant surprise.  More reasons to get off the computer and physically search for vinyl.

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