Friday, July 31, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 135: Modern Jazz Quartet

I've mentioned that the MJQ was formed in part out of John Lewis's dissatisfaction with the head-solos-head format that had become ubiquitous in bebop, and this recording session, in its own unique way, is a break from that format, in that it's solo-solo-solo-solo.

Well, not exactly. But perhaps Lewis, in his own way, is simultaneously playing tribute to the classic bebop form and standing it on its ear.  "La Ronde" in a shorter version was part of an earlier MJQ session. The shorter version was a reworking of an earlier Lewis composition, "Two Bass Hit,"originally composed for the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. The newly Europeanized title -- La Ronde is a fin de siecle play by the Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler -- is in keeping with the European classical -- and particularly Francophile -- overlay that Lewis was putting on American bebop. Under either title, it's a good piece, and as "Two Bass Hit" it's become a jazz standard.

As "La Ronde," it makes more sense in its extended suite version. The Schnitzler play is a tag team
series of sexual encounters, and "La Ronde Suite" is a sort of tag team, as well. It's in four sections, with each section featuring a different member of the group in an extended solo.

Kenny Clarke is the drummer for the "La Ronde Suite," and it was his last recording with the group. By their next session, in July, Connie Kay had replaced him.

Most people think of Kay as the quintessential MJQ drummer, and with good reason. He was with them for 40 years. He was a perfect ensemble drummer, in a group that emphasized the ensemble sound. Clarke was one of the innovators of bebop drumming, and like his fellow pioneers Max Roach and Art Blakey, he was much more of a soloist. "La Ronde Suite" would have been different without him.

"La Ronde Suite" was first issued on a 10-inch, The Modern Jazz Quartet Vol. 2, but it's most famous as part of the MJQ's Django album.

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