JJ 04/61: Modern Jazz Quartet – Third Stream Music

Sixty years ago Daniel Halperin found little connection between the moving parts of John Lewis's creation 'beyond brief moments of bewildered collision.' First published in Jazz Journal April 1961


First I must admit that I have not listened carefully to the MJQ since Kenny Clarke left. Second I must confess that I fell asleep at one of the MJQ con­certs last time round.

Third Stream Music, we are told, is neither jazz nor classical “but draws upon the techniques of both.” Would that this were true! John Lewis would be playing like Serkin and Horowitz would be phrasing like Horace Silver – a delightful expectation.

Well, it doesn’t happen on this record, though it is devoutly to be wished that it may happen soon, somewhere. What does happen here is that, for example, in Gunther Schuller’s interesting “Con­versation,” the Beaux Arts String Quartet fiddles away fascinatingly for a brief spell, then Bags plays briefly, then the fiddlers saw away at the catgut, then Lewis makes a measured oration, then the strings crash in, then Connie Kay tinkles, then I fall asleep – again.

There is little connection between these moving parts beyond brief moments of bewildered collision.

John Lewis’s “Sketch” is just that. It fails depressingly to advance in any way Lewis’s tired linear conceptions. Jimmy Giuffre’s “Fine” is in his well-worn, woodsy, folkloresque groove which I wish he would hurry up and clamber out of. Lewis’s “Da Capo” is the mixture as before, which is to say that it is the musical equivalent of sleeping-pills with the added and horrible thought that what it could well induce is boredom, not soothing sleep.

The crime: That a number of bril­liant musicians and thinking composers have hidden their failure to create a new form behind the slick claim that they have, instead, succeeded. The mitigating circumstance: It isn’t going to be easy to create a new form. The victim: You, if I have failed to dissuade you from purchasing this record. The verdict: pre­tentiousness personified.

(a) Da Capo; Finé; Exposure (19½ min.) – (b) Sketch; Conversation (17½ min.)
“Da Capo” and “Finé”: John Lewis (p); Milt Jackson (vbh); Percy Heath (bs); Connie Kay (d) plus Jimmy Giuffre (cl/ten); Jim Hall (gtr); Ralph Pena (bs). “Exposure”: Bill McColl (cl); Bob di Domenica (flt); Manny Zegler (bsn): Paul Ingraham (Fr-hrn); Joe Tekula (cello) and Betty Glamman (harp) replace Giuffre trio. “Sketch and Conversation”: Gerald Tarack (1st vln); Alan Martin (2nd vln); Carl Eberl (viola) replace McColl, di Domenica, Zegler, Ingraham, Glamman.
(London LTZ-K-15207, 12inLP. 35s. 9½d.)