Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

The New York Jazz Quartet (pianist Roland Hanna, reed man Frank Wess, bassist George Mraz and drummer George Brown) is a most pleasant surprise. When I heard the group last summer, I regarded them as four first-rate artists playing lackluster music.

The quartet is back at Blues Alley this week, and things are looking up. Their music now has the vitality that previously was missing, with sparks flying, especially during performances of Wess' compositions.

One of these was "Placitude," a beautiful impressionistic ballad. The composer, one of the first and best jazz flutists, displayed excellent tone and facility as Hanna played Debusseyesque chords and Mraz bowed countermelodies. There was more good flute and group interplay on "Teresia," a fast waltz.

Wess is most impressive on flute, although he plays good saprono saxophone and Gene Ammons-like tenor. Hanna has never sounded better, playing with exuberance and sensitivity. Mraz, one of several stellar Czechoslovakian jazzmen to come to this country, is in the top ranks on his instrument. Substitute drummer Brown is a Washingtonian who tours regularly with Illinois Jacquet, and he fills the drummers's chair with the confidence of a veteran, which he is.