Modern Jazz Quartet: The Montreux Years

Deluxe CD package presents 1985-93 tracks from Lewis, Jackson, Heath and Kay, flying the flag for jazz at the Montreux jazz festival


BMG’s album of festival performances by the MJQ is as much a demonstration of CD packaging as a salute to Montreux and the band’s late resurgence. The disc nestles in a handsome, 12-page, stiff-spined booklet acknowledging the Claude Nobs Foundation (Nobs started the festival and was its director) and its compendious archive of “live” recordings from 1967 on.

Disbanding in 1974 after 23 years, the MJQ reunited in 1981 and performed for a few months in each succeeding year until 1997. The 11 crowd-pleasing tracks on this album cover the years 1985 to 1993 at Montreux. It’s a historical document in more than one sense: the foundation has taken in rock, soul, rap, Latin and other genres since its early jazz-only days.

With a cool, chamber-music delivery, the band’s work was consistently high and joyous, both pre- and post-demob. Not unsurprisingly, its potential for swing and flight and the dissolution of the tendency towards preciousness were encouraged further by sometimes noisy audience enthusiasm, as on these tracks. But the quartet could oscillate and undulate with a passion, especially outside the recording studio.

The big hits are here, as well as Ko-Ko and Rockin’ In Rhythm (from the 1968 album For Ellington), and Europhile John Lewis’s Le Cannet and A Day In Dubrovnik. The former’s piano solo mirrors Milt Jackson’s on vibraharp on Nature Boy, fortuitously highlighting the differences in temperament that were the source of the quartet’s captivating frisson but also demonstrating how capable Jackson was of Lewis-style reflection and finesse. Interesting, too, that drummer Connie Kay and bassist Percy Heath often open up to reveal features of their former careers with, respectively, Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie.

Included in the package is a nice essay by London-based vibraphonist Nat Steele, whose 2017 album Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet involved labour-of-love transcription of Lewis arrangements and marked the MJQ’s enduring appeal.

Ko-Ko; A Day In Dubrovnik; Django; Blues In A Minor; Bags’ Groove; The Golden Striker; One Never Knows; Le Cannet; Nature Boy; Rockin’ In Rhythm; True Blues (76.39)
John Lewis (p); Milt Jackson (vib); Percy Heath (b); Connie Kay (d). Montreux, 1985-1993.