Picks and Pans Review: "topsy": This One's for Basie Reunion at Budokan, 1981

updated 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Modern Jazz Quartet

For all the refractive beauty and significance of the music these tuxedoed gentlemen made during their first quarter-century together, they have never been more openly emotional than the time, in 1981, when they reunited after their seven-year "vacation." Much of that feeling stems from pianist John Lewis, who, at 65, continues to purify his technique while adding ever more inspiration and gravity to his already supernal sense of melody. There may be no pianist whose accompaniments are more simple and yet more provocative than Lewis'. The tip of the hat to the Count on Topsy (a tune written for the prewar Basie band) will surprise none of the MJQ's followers. Lewis is a living extension of Basie's belief in stripping away the superfluous in soloing as well as arranging, and the MJQ itself tick-tocks with the same weightless ease and powerful swinging undercurrent that marked the Basie band. Topsy includes an unaccompanied version of Nature Boy by vibraharpist Milt Jackson. It's only one of hundreds of Nature Boys that Jackson has performed as a part of recent MJQ concerts. For all the times he's played the song, using the same structure and many of the same motifs, it always comes out fresh. Jackson is Jackson—he's like some complex single-malt whisky that is always the same and yet always remarkable. The remarkable thing about Reunion at Budokan, 1981 is not how far the band has come since making the record, but how together they were after seven years apart. Percy Heath, the bassist, and Connie Kay, the drummer, often get short shrift. But turn up the volume on either of these discs and their subtle importance—as well as the rich sound they get out of their difficult instruments—will become clear. (Pablo)

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