The Amadeus were the most successful and highly-regarded Quartet of the 20th century. Benefitting from the jet aeroplane and from the record industry s ability to reach out to world, they dominated chamber music making for nearly 40 years.
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.
Having sponsored Ornette Coleman at the School of Jazz near Lennox, MA, pianist and composer John Lewis helped launch the controversial career of one of the last great innovators in jazz. Lewis' support of the ragtag Texas native was somewhat unique in jazz circles at the time and even surprising, especially considering the gulf between the classical jazz formality of his group the Modern Jazz Quartet and Coleman's radical notions of free improvisation. Nevertheless, Lewis not only saw in Coleman the first jazz genius since bebop's Parker, Gillespie, and Monk, but put pay to the praise with the MJQ's 1962 rendition of one of Coleman's most famous numbers, "Lonely Woman." (Along with Art Pepper's 1960 version of "Tears Inside," this was one of the earliest of Coleman covers done.)
Bennie Maupin's Cryptogramophone label follow-up CD to Penumbra both parallels and provides a departure from that excellent effort. What is similar is the softer tone Maupin is displaying in his far post-Headhunters days, refined by experience and cured though wisdom. The music Maupin plays on this beautiful effort is even more subdued, as he collaborates with an ensemble of relatively unknown musicians from Poland. If you've been hearing recent efforts from Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his ECM recordings with the teenage pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio, you hear stark similarities. But further, the recently reissued Maupin epic Jewel in the Lotus, which was also on ECM, is quite different than this ECM sounding project. Old may in fact be new again in some respects, but in this case, new is really new. Maupin offers so much appealing music within the undercurrent, starting with the delicate but paced "Black Ice" and the waltzing title track with Maupin on soprano sax. Separate flute and piano lines are woven into a more somber waltz "Tears," or the sparse, spacy, long "Spirits of the Tatras" with dynamics patiently rendered up and down with lots of piano from Michal Tokaj, who rivals the crystalline musings of Wasilewski on the entire album.
Recorded in 1963, The Sheriff features the Modern Jazz Quartet in fine swinging form. The program is not as sharply focused as on some of the earlier Atlantic releases, but it is compelling nonetheless. There are four originals by pianist John Lewis, including the fleeting, bluesy title cut, and the moody, spacious "In a Crowd," – originally composed for the 1961 film A Milanese Story. Its stepped-up time signature and series of phrases played by Milt Jackson grounds the tune in blues, but Lewis' solo feels more like a solo trumpet breezing through the center. The set includes Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras," a classical piece the quartet first performed with guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Bassist Percy Heath is stellar here, playing both arco and pizzicato and alternately moving the work forward with deftness and precision. Lewis and Jackson engage in gorgeous counterpoint throughout.