The Monterey Quartet
Review By Willard Manus

The stars were in alignment when the Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007. Not only was it a landmark occasion, it signalled the birth of a new record company attached to the Festival itself. Called--what else?--Monterey Jazz Festival Records, the label (an imprint of Concord Music Group) has just released its first CD, THE MONTEREY QUARTET: LIVE AT THE 2007 MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL, featuring the work of such stellar musicians as bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubacalba, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland.

Though some of them had crossed musical paths in the past, this was the first time they played together as a quartet. Each artist brought two original compositions to the record date. "We had four really fun days of rehearsal at the hotel before the Festival," confides Holland in the liner notes. "And we needed it. Everybody had written challenging music."

The Quartet twice performed the music heard on the CD--first on the main stage, then again at Dizzy's Den, a smaller, more intimate venue on the Festival grounds. Fortunately, tape was rolling at Dizzy's, where the combination of inspired playing and appreciative audience resulted in something extraordinary.

"There really was an electric atmosphere from the audience," recalled Holland. "There was an energy we all felt, that kind of circular energy that goes on between the musicians and the audience. It's a very powerful thing when it really takes off."

The CD kicks off with Harland's composition, Treachery, a cooking piece that captivates with its pulsing beats and hard-driving urgency. Harland and Potter lead the way, ducking and bobbing like skilled boxers as they head toward the final, free-swinging moments of this musical slugfest.

That sets the bar (way up high) for the rest of the album, all of whose eight cuts showcase the imaginative, many-sided, life-affirming contributions of these remarkable musicians. Whether playing with quiet intensity (Step To It) or exploring the soaring voices and motifs of Maiden or lamenting the fate of women in the Arab world (in Veil of Tears), the quartet never ceases to amaze and enthrall.

On the CD's last track, Ask Me Why by Chris Potter, speed and power dominate, with the group swinging hotly for eleven straight minutes.

The net proceeds of LIVE AT will support MJF's year-round education program, which includes the Next Generation Festival and National High School Jazz Competition, in-class training for young musicians, summer jazz camp, jazz tours and an internet-based Digital Music Education Music Education Project.