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Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet


Latin Festival

The Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet
Columbia CL 1582

From the back cover: In recent months the phrase "Third Stream" has been coined to describe an intellectualized form of jazz which springs as much from classical training as from the traditions of popular dance music. John Lewis's Modern Jazz Quartet has made an enormous commercial success in combining severe formal discipline with free-swinging improvisation.

Charles Bell takes his jazz very seriously, as listeners will find out from this extraordinary long-playing record. He is of the firm belief that there can be a legitimate fusion between jazz and the most serious approach to classical music. As a pupil of Nicholai Lopatnikoff, he was first immersed in the Romantic composers, but his interest soon branched out to the early composers of church music as well as the most contemporary writers. As an undergraduate at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, he was first known for his works for chamber orchestra and string quartet, and his present jazz group was formed in 1958 when it made its debut at the "Copa Club."

It was during the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival at Georgetown University in 1960 that the Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet made its first professional impact. Before a jury consisting of Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Jack Pleis and this writer, the CJQ walked off with the top honors; its astonishing young (19) drummer, Allen Blairman, won first prize as the top individual musician. Despite its intellectual approach to music, the Charles Bell Group was accorded a vociferous welcome by the crowd and proved that musical taste among undergraduates has become far more sophisticated than ever.

There are more than a few parallels between Charles Bell and the previously mentioned John Lewis. Both are essentially serious composures, although Bell makes less use of improvisation than does Lewis. Both are dedicated, abstemious souls who are striving to raise the level of public taste as well as to entertain. Even the musical balance of the group is not dissimilar. In the CJQ, the guitar replaces the vibes, but in the drummer, Allen Blairman, there is a real counterpart to the ebullient Milt Jackson of the MJQ. However, there is one significant difference between the two groups: Bell is far less blues-oriented than is John Lewis, and he approaches music even more from the classical side than does the more experience Lewis.

In the few months that have passed since the award-winning at Georgetown University, the Contemporary Jazz Quartet has had a successful engagement at New York's "Birdland" and worked around Pittsburgh. The CJQ deserves the much broader audience that only records can bring. – John Hammond

From Billboard - March 6, 1961: Charles Bell, and the young men who make up his contemporary jazz quartet, won first place at the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in Washington last year. On this album, the group's first, they show off some of the interesting and contemporary stylings that garnered them first place. Bell, the leader and pianist, is oriented toward the classical world, and the jazz he plays here is both modern and "third-stream" style. He is backed neatly by guitarist Bill Smith, drummer Allen Blairman and Frank Traficante on bass. Tunes are original s and "Latin Festival" is outstanding.

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