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Hande l& Hayden in tune with The Modern Jazz Quartet

Handel & Haydn Society
The Modern Jazz Quartet
Bach Variations.
Symphony Hall.
Feb. 21 and 23.

By Larry McGovern
Arts Staff

Christopher Hogwood, director of the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra and chorus, is to be commended for bringing together two genres of music -- Baroque and jazz -- in last weekend's performance of Bach Variations. What could have been a confusing event for the audience resulted in an evening of music fulfilling to both classical and jazz fans. The H&* performed with emotion and grace reminiscent of a true Baroque orchestra. However, it was Hogwood's unusual innovation -- the Modern Jazz Quartet -- that stole the show.

Although it was not Hogwood's intention to draw parallels between jazz and Baroque, MJQ was indeed the perfect choice for a jazz counterpart to Bach. In the 1960s, the group was a leader in Third-Stream music, a combination of classical and jazz. John Lewis, pianist for MJQ, has infused the elements of Baroque music into many of his compositions. Throughout their history, MJQ has shared the stage with symphonies and string quartets in over 60 concerts. For obvious reasons, they have often been termed the most "classical" of jazz ensembles.

The concert program alternated between Bach compositions played by the H&* and music by the MJQ from their 1974 album Blues on Bach. Hogwood led his 20-piece period orchestra on harpsichord through an impassioned rendition of Bach's Sinfonia in F. Following a break for the MJQ, the orchestra continued with the Concerto in C Minor for Oboe and Violin, with impressive solo work by oboist Steven Hammer and violinist Linda Quan. MJQ's performance continued the young vitality that has been their trademark for 40 years, although the music conveyed a touch of sorrow for the absence of drummer Connie Kay, who is currently in the hospital recovering from illness. MJQ performed as a trio on Sunday night, with John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraharp, and Percy Heath on bass. Their repertoire included "Don't Stop this Train," based on a Bach fugue from Clavierbuchlein, "Alexander's Fugue," in reference to Bach's son, "Blues in B," "Blues in A Minor," "Blues in C Minor," and yes, "Blues in H" (hence Blues in BACH).

Sunday's concert was heightened with a magnificent performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, including both the soloists from H&H's previous concerto and the talent of Roxanne Layton on recorder. Without break, MJQ continued with the theme in spirited playing on the John Lewis composition "Elemental Bach," ending the concert fittingly by immortalizing Bach in jazz.