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Classical Jazz Quartet: The Classical Jazz Quartet Plays Bach

On the Classical Jazz Quartet’s Plays Bach and its first album, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, Bob Belden provides arrangements of famous classical pieces that serve as musical fodder for pianist Kenny Barron, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Lewis Nash.

The preceding may call to mind the Modern Jazz Quartet, which features identical instruments and also concerns itself with making the Western tradition work with a contemporary jazz idiom. But the MJQ made adventurous recordings with classical musicians and fused jazz and classical in original forms; among the inevitable failed experiments, they made some enduring music. The CJQ just plays arrangements of famous classical pieces, and the lack of imagination involved means nothing here endures for long after the album is done playing.

Belden’s arrangements do provide some transitory pleasures. For example, in his recasting of the first movement of Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, melodies that were prominent in the original counterpoint are mixed nicely into the quartet texture. But after putting the Bach tunes in quartet form, Belden doesn’t seem to have thought much about where else they could go musically, often simply redecorating Bach with a superficial jazz accent. The quartet doesn’t pick things up with its improvisations, which are strangely decorous and concerned mostly with sustaining the cool atmosphere Belden has created. Both parties are more reluctant to transform Bach’s themes than the composer was, with the result that the original compositions are far more interesting than these arrangements.

Stick with the MJQ if you want to try classical jazz. The CJQ, despite its name, doesn’t do much for either jazz or classical.

Originally Published