Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 143: Milt Jackson

Again the other MJQ, with Horace Silver instead of John Lewis, and yes, it's a very different sound. Not necessarily funkier, however, even though the session was rereleased in 1962 on album called Soul Pioneers. Silver had not yet made the fists-first commitment to funk that would bring him his greatest acclaim, and this was a session heavy on ballads, composed by some impressive balladsmiths.

"I Should Care" was co-composed by orchestra leaders Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston, with lyrics by Sammy Cahn.. Stordahl had been an arranger for Tommy Dorsey when Frank Sinatra joined the band, and he became the arranger and orchestra leader for Sinatra's Columbia recordings. The Modern Jazz Quartet would later record the same tune, so it's interesting to look at the differences. The MJQ's arrangement is, unsurprisingly, the more intricate, with some very closely worked-out duet work between John Lewis and Milt Jackson. The version by the other MJQ is much more built around Jackson, and he explores different territories, with a lot more reverb and a lot more pushing the upper register.

One significant difference between the Milt Jackson Quartet and the Modern Jazz Quartet is the part given to Percy Heath. Heath certainly gets solo time with Lewis's MJQ, but he seems more assertive here, particularly on Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine." "Valentine," as well as Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," are very familiar tunes, and with good reason. There are two ways a jazz player can handle a melody like this, both with value. You can get outta the way, and give the melody a chance to express itself. Or, like Jackson and Silver, you can count on everyone knowing the melody, and just use it as a point of departure and a point of reference.

The group gets more uptempo, too, for instance in "Stonewall," with a lot of walking bass and and lot of  virtuoso vibing. I do love the ballads, but I might take "Stonewall" as a favorite from this session.

"Stonewall," in two parts, was released as a 45. Milt Jackson Quartet was Prestige PRLP 7003. Before it (PRLP 7002) came a Stan Getz reissue, featuring one session from 1949 and two sessions from 1950.

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