PERFORMER: Modern Jazz Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 0349796883
Despite their effete reputation, the MJQ were pretty controversial and politically loaded. Broadcaster Benny Green’s jibe about thousands of people sitting in the Festival Hall watching a man with a little beard hit a little bell seems to miss the point: the group evolved when black jazz musicians were increasingly demanding to be treated as serious artists rather than glorified minstrels.
The ‘brand’ Lewis developed, with sober suits and Renaissance allusions, was part of this tactic, but coexisted with an ability to swing hard and dig deep into the blues. Any compilation is going to provoke quibbles (I value the transcendently lovely Quartet version of England’s Carol over the performance with orchestra included here) but these reminiscences of the MJQ’s studio albums and live gigs, including the Music Inn performances, are a constant delight. Masters at work. Barry Witherden