The Beethoven quartets have always been at the cote of the Emerson Quartet's repertoire, and over the years it has honed its playing of these works to a fine degree. Here in this new set we encounter exaltation, immaculate playing and ensemble precision of awesome proportions (typically, first and second violinists often swap their roles). The Emerson is perhaps the best rehearsed quartet of our century. The playing is not only flawless technically, but reflects a careful study of the music, both formally and in the players' intense preoccupation with textual matters. The recording of this set is also spectacular.
Formed by three Austrian immigrants and one youthful Londoner, the Amadeus Quartet came to prominence in postwar England. It excelled in the Classical repertoire, and its recordings in the 1950s were important contributions to the growing body of chamber music on the newly introduced LP. The process of recording on tape was a major improvement over the start-and-stop 78 rpm methods, and these clean and skillfully edited masters hold up quite well in the digital transfer. This seven-disc set follows Deutsche Grammophon's 2003 reissue of the quartet's early Mozart recordings, and covers works by Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, thus giving a fuller representation of the group's prodigious output for Westminster and DG.
Chico Freeman (tripling on this album on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet) made many records from 1977-84, and all are worth picking up by fans of adventurous jazz. Freeman's warm tone and knowledge of more traditional areas of jazz make even his more abstract flights seem fairly accessible. Joined by vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, bassist Rick Rozie and drummer Don Moye on this somewhat obscure effort, Freeman stretches out on lengthy renditions of his originals "No Time Left," "Uhmla," and a briefer "Circle."
This album has an interesting concept, alternating four original blues with five adaptations of melodies from classical works by Bach. The Modern Jazz Quartet had long been quite adept in both areas, and despite a certain lack of variety on this set (alternating back and forth between the two styles somewhat predictably), the music is largely enjoyable. Vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis (doubling here on harpsichord), bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay were still all very much in their musical prime during the 21st year of the MJQ's existence.
More material from the famous Last Concert record from the MJQ – not really the last concert ever from the Modern Jazz Quartet – but a set that seemed so at the time, given that the group went their separate ways for a number of years! The record's got the combo in really top form – very much back to the basics of their early time on Atlantic Records, with a sublime focus on that unique sound that no other group like this could match.