Tag Archives: lee konitz

Enfants Terribles @ Blue Note


Reconstruction is paramount for this intergenerational quartet of saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Joey Baron. They’ll grab a standard’s thematic DNA and twist it silly. The result is a concoction which often has zilch to do with predictable expectations. The 84-year-old Konitz is particularly mercurial, aligning impulses into a cagey schema.  
Tonight’s the last night! Here’s Kelvin on the action.

Konitz/Haden/Motian/Mehldau (ECM)

Sometimes the measured approach is the exciting approach. When jazz elders Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian connected with 40-year-old pianist Brad Mehldau for several sets of clever improv at Manhattan’s Birdland in the winter of 2009, there was no exclamation coming from the bandstand. Their ardor was closer in temperament to the kind you’d find in a chess game. Like the Modern Jazz Quartet, their actions were refined, but their art was gripping.

At least that’s how it sounds on this new disc, which finds the quartet steadily mulling over their options before making deliberate moves that weave in and out of each other’s spheres. A spray of cymbal taps by Motian triggers a rumble from the bottom of Mehldau’s piano. The pulsed thumping of Haden’s bass spurs a flurry of sideways notes from Konitz’s horn. The thematic material of chestnuts like “Solar” and “Oleo” becomes secondary to the extrapolations the unit steers collectively. On “Lullaby of Birdland,” the melody barely gets a mention. Its DNA is harvested by these masters for alternate purposes. Indeed there a few moments here prompting a head-scratch or two: “I thought I knew what tune this is, but now I’m not so sure.” For the most part, that’s a good thing. The music is perpetually morphing, and its creators are calmly in control of its destination.


25 Jazz Albums That Just Might Make It To The “End of the Year” Lists – 2011 Edition

Every summer, around June 1 because that the anum’s half-way point, I’ve been taking the temperature vis a vis the records that will make the end-of-the-year lists. Which titles are vying for inclusion? Which are the definite front-runners? It’s an old link-baiting strat. We all love our horse races and we all love our listicles. Okay, so we’re a couple weeks late this month. Blame the busy June Jazz rush (which ain’t over yet).  Here are 25 discs that keep buzzing around my head. Wonder which will make the cut? Any you’d like to weigh in on? Sure there are…

Gerald Cleaver’s Uncle June,  Be It As I See It (Fresh Sound)

Walter/Halvorson/Evans, Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear)

Brad Mehldau, Live In Marciac (Nonesuch)

Noah Preminger, Before the Rain (Palmetto)

Orrin Evans, Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone)

Kermit Driscoll, Reveille (19/8)

Jeff “Tain” Watts, Family (Dark Keys)

Fred Hersch, Alone At the Vanguard (Palmetto)

Muhal Richard Abrams, Sound Dance (Pi)

Eric Harland, Voyager (Space Time)

JD Allen Trio, Victory! (Sunnyside)

Tim Berne, Insomnia (Clean Feed)

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare II (Constellation)

Russ Lossing Trio, Oracle (HatOLOGY)

Mostly Other People Do The Killing, The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed)

Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel (ECM)

Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)

Orchestre National de Jazz, Shut Up And Dance (Bee Jazz)

Jeremy Udden’s Plainville, If The Past Looks So Bright (Sunnyside)

BB&C, The Veil (Cryptogramophone)

Joe Lovano, Bird Songs (Blue Note)

Bruce Barth Trio, Live At Smalls (Smalls Live)

Konitz/Mehldau/Haden/Motion, Live at Birdland (ECM)

Black/Dunn/Noriega/Speed, Endangered Blood (Skirl)

Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)

Steve Coleman & Five Elements, The Mancy of Sound (Pi)

Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day II (Clean Feed)

Farmers By Nature, Out of This World’s Distortions (AUM Fidelity)

A visit to the comments section of A Blog Supreme’s mid-year litmus test reminded me that Joe Fiedler’s Sacred Chrome Orb (Yellow Sound) should be on the list above as well.

Four Men, Three Tunes, Two Lessons, One Set

Lee Konitz strolled downstairs from the second floor dressing room at the Blue Note last night. When he started to wind through the tables, he began greeting folks he recognized and folks he didn’t know from Adam. “Hi, how are you,” he queried with a big smile on his face. Several fans enjoyed this informality. “Have fun,” said one fiftysomething. “You have fun, too,” replied the 83-yr-old. Then, with saxophone in hand, he took the stage and began messing with a bunch of phrases that fed the imaginations of his cohorts, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Joey Baron. They responded by messing with the shards of melody and rhythm that Konitz had been messing with. Almost instantly, everyone was messing with everything. A theme? Nope, no statement of theme necessary, thanks. There were few long lines, and only fleeting moments of swing tempo, but the music’s kinetics sketched out an engaging narrative. Part of it was textural, some of it was propulsive. All of it was lyrical.

The level of intimacy – between the artists and with the audience – was remarkable. At one point Konitz turned to his left and told the patrons behind him not to talk so loud. He did it without an ounce animosity. A few moments later he put on his suit coat while his band mates played on, and mouthed to the customers at the table in front of him, “I’m cold, are you cold too?” Then he put his lips back on his instrument and answered a pecking query Frisell had just sent his way.  Baron flammed softly behind them. Everything stopped for a moment. Peacock began to solo. The dynamic was similar to that used by Derek Bailey’s Company ensemble, quicksilver improv at its most unscripted, dazzling in it ingenuity. The sound level was muted, so was the lighting. The Blue Note seemed different than it did a few weeks earlier when I was there for another show.  The interplay halted; the denouement of “All The Things You Are” had been reached. Konitz announced the tune, and added to no one in particular, “Well, that was a few of the things we are.” Baron beamed. “And now, for you dancing pleasure…,” Konitz went on by way of introduction. But the version of “Body and Soul” that came next probably was a take that would be best enjoyed sitting in a chair. Shards of melody searched for opportunities to form alliances, topsy-turvy counterpoint maneuvers tried to manufacture grace (not unlike the action on this new jewel).

Things were going nicely – the music’s verité qualities were amplified somehow. I almost felt like I was on stage with them. Then more candor from Lee. “Let me have it for a few seconds,” he said to the group, as if the audience wasn’t there. The action stopped, and Konitz generated a terse soliloquy whose honesty was disarming. It was as if we were in the privacy of his apartment, listening to him decipher some musical puzzle. One more romp, this time through Bird, and this time reminding me that I recently wrote about Konitz’s dedication to perpetual inquiry, and the performance concluded.

In some ways, it was like watching an off-Broadway show – that sense of sharing a tiny space made all the emotions resonate deeper. Ultimately two lessons were learned: art may well increase its impact when waxing guileless, and treating audience members like confidantes just might empower a performance. All in favor of further informality in jazz, honk twice.

Ethan Iverson Gets Inside Lee’s Head.

Spinner’s Tad Hendrickson talks to Lee Konitz.

Ted Panken has a revealing Blindfold Test with Lee on his blog.