Friday, June 16, 2006

Milt Jackson in company... with John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet... and Thelonious Monk...

Anthony's comments about Milt Jackson got me to thinking – here is a master who started out in the early days of bebop and who always held his ground in all company down the years while keeping his intrinsic style uncompromised. Flowing, leaping streams of notes that always remain inflected with and grounded in the blues. I've dug out a couple of tracks that see him in diverse situations and demonstrate the above remarks very well. Two with John Coltrane from the album 'Bags and Trane,' plus one from his time with the Modern Jazz Quartet and one with Thelonious Monk.

'Three little words' opens with a brisk intro from Hank Jones. Theme stated by vibes then Coltrane takes the first solo. Kay's cymbals drive the track along – a subtle drummer, no tub-thumper( who made his bones in the Modern Jazz Quartet alongside Jackson). Jackson matches the tenor for note density, unreeling effortless reams of sixteenth notes. Jones solos with an elegant single note, flowing line in the right hand with sparse left hand. A round of swapped eights between piano, drums, sax and vibes then Jackson returns to take it out. Classic swinging jazz.

Jones again introduces: 'Stairway to the Stars.' Jackson again states the theme of the ballad, taken at a slow, easy swing. Long ringing notes placed strategically. Coltrane, of course, was a master player of ballads. He solos with a brusque tenderness, that familiar slight keening edge in the higher register. Jackson again with Coltrane faintly behind him for a few bars – a miscued entrance? Short coda – Jackson vibes ringing into echo to end on a brief couple of notes from Coltrane. A snapshot of a track in its brevity that provides the epitome of a fifties blowing session.

Jackson was a co-founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet: John Lewis's most famous composition for the group – which became a jazz standard – is 'Django,' written after the death of the European gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The MJQ recorded several versions over their long career. Here's one from their second album 'Pyramid'. Starting off slowly and stately before settling into a brisk mid tempo, swished along by Kay's brushes. Jackson solos, leads into a brief bridging arranged section before Lewis comes in on piano. Minimal almost to be begin with, his sparse yet swinging style slowly expands and builds. He executes a ritardando into the group theme repeat which is followed by a short coda ending on bowed bass, a shimmer of cymbals, a ringing of vibes. Note the subtle arrangement of this track: it's not just theme plus solos but is held together by the bass which alternates between four four walking, a bluesy riff and an eight bar pedal point. These recurring features help to provide an overall structure which reflects Lewis's desire in the fifties to escape the usual run of performance. Lewis also helped to raise the profile of jazz by taking his music to the concert halls and wearing evening dress. Some say he lost something in the process – I saw the MJQ a couple of times in the early sixties and thought they were brilliant – and swinging and bluesy despite the flirtations and collaborations with the Third Stream and the formal experiments that came from Lewis's deep knowledge of Bach and desire to expand the jazz repertoire. For all of which, he remained a great blues player... like Milt Jackson who sometimes seemed uncomfortable in the more grandiose settings Lewis concocted – but always gave of his best.

Jackson featured on some of Thelonious Monk's early recordings. In fact, his musicianship shines thoughout those old Blue Note sessions: not many of the sidemen were always comfortable with Monk's music. Here is 'Criss Cross,' from 1951, a typically jagged Monk theme with unexpected shifting accents. Jackson takes the first short solo, supported by Monk's clenched chording and some lively Blakey rim shots. Shihab up next – a shadow of Bird in his playing but he negotiates the changes succesfully enough. A sparkling solo from Monk. Two minutes 58 seconds of compressed brilliance.

There is a whole wedge of Monk solos transcribed for you here...

And here is a clip of the MJQ in action... a clip of the Coltrane Quartet playing 'Naima' here...

Milt Jackson and John Coltrane
(Milt Jackson:vibraphone; John Coltrane: tenor Saxophone; Hank Jones: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Connie Kay: drums)


Stairway to the stars

Three Little Words



Modern Jazz Quartet
(Milt Jackson: vibraphone; John Lewis: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Connie Kay: drums).



Thelonious Monk
(Sahib Shihab: alto saxophone; Milt Jackson: vibraphone; Thelonious Monk: piano: Al Mckibbon: bass: Art Blakey: drums).


Criss Cross



St Anthony said...

It's the vibes. They go well together, Coltrane and Jackson - two good clean tracks. It can't have been easy, keeping up with Coltrane, particularly on the vibes, but Jackson stands his ground. Swinging. If Coltrane had never gone cosmic, he could have carved out a brilliant career just playing those ballads - and he always sounds respectful of his co-players. From the days when Coltrane could get it all in within a relatively short span.
Now, the MJQ are one of these major voices in jazz that I've never heard too much of - although this is good stuff. Again, I'd call it a cool sounding tune if some West Coasters hadn't already taken the description from Miles. I understand they were more open than some to the New Thing, if not swimming in the same waters.It's those vibes again - I can understand the desire to get into the concert halls.
It's another archetypal Monk tune - those stuttering rhythms - he onviously got on with Jackson - a short and sweet little tune, like he says all he needs to say and that's it.

Rod... said...

John Lewis from the MJQ is an interesting figure - he looks conservative but when you realise he took up Ornette Coleman early - and Eric Dolphy - - and worked with them both on a couple of third stream albums which I'd like to get hold of... there was much more to him...