At last, the double LP that captured the brilliant state of the Modern Jazz Quartet's art and summarized its first decade has made it to compact disc. It was worth waiting for. The quartet managed to embody elements of European classicism and bebop mastery learned directly from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in music bound with the strong, supple sinew of the blues. While many Americans were still arguing over whether what the MJQ was playing was really jazz, European listeners recognized its authenticity and value, and embraced the group. By the time of the quartet's spring tour of Scandinavia in the spring of 1960, proof of performance had dissolved that discussion at home, and the band was enormously popular here.
In Europe, the MJQ was beyond popular. European audiences idolized it. In performances of the repertoire that John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Connie Kay had perfected, the band reciprocated the crowd's adulation. These are essential, and irresistible, versions of "Django," "Bluesology," "Vendome," "The Cylinder" and 11 other MJQ staples, including "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," a title that symbolizes the quartet's ethos. Everything here swings, even at the deliciously slow tempo of "I Should Care."
The credit for this major resuscitation goes not to Atlantic, the company that let the album lie unreissued for 40 years, but to Joel Dorn's feisty little Label M. When Dorn learned that the album could be licensed, he snapped it up. The CD box shows the original LP cover mounted, framed and displayed in a gallery, as befits a classic.
An aside: One of the pleasures of this album is to experience the intensity with which the Swedish and Norwegian audiences listened. There is none of the obligatory applause after solos that has become a sort of self-conscious, self-congratulatory plague infecting audiences and interrupting music. There are no whoops, whistles and shouts. There is only serious listening followed by sincere praise.