The "Lost Jazz Shrines" concert series, hosted by the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in downtown Manhattan, is now in its third year. The lost "shrine" being honored in this year’s series is the Half Note, and on the docket for May were tributes to Jimmy Rushing and the "Half-Note Tenors" — Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, and Sonny Stitt. But to kick off the series, the young mavericks of the Jazz Composers Collective were tapped to shed light on one of the most fascinating figures ever to perform at the dearly departed club: the late Lennie Tristano.
Alto legend Lee Konitz, who worked with Tristano extensively, led the first half of the concert. Employing the musicians at hand in different combinations, Konitz displayed the full range of his warm and measured sound. Beginning with an unaccompanied, mid-tempo "The Song Is You," he spun phrases filled with wit and intelligence, wasting not a note. Pianist Frank Kimbrough joined him for an original ballad called "Wünderbar." (Konitz lives in Germany.) Then bassist Ben Allison and drummer Tony Moreno backed him on a trio version of "Stella By Starlight." You’d never expect it, but Konitz forgot how the song went, so he very calmly asked the audience to hum the first two bars. Reminded instantly, he jovially invited the audience to sing along and counted the tune off. Playing the first chorus alone, he paused midway and remarked, "Quiet band."
The remainder of the set included the Konitz compositions "Thingin’," "LT," and "Subconscious-Lee," as well as Tristano’s "317 East 22nd Street." The full band tackled these numbers. Ron Horton contributed characteristically brilliant solos on trumpet and flugelhorn, but the highlight was the interplay between Konitz and the young tenor whiz Mark Turner, which made for a rich comparative study.
Turner and Konitz sat out most of the second half, making way for tenor saxophonist Michael Blake. Much as Blake, Allison, Kimbrough, and Horton have done with the music of Herbie Nichols, they brought their own sensibilities to bear on pieces by Tristano, Konitz, and the late tenor player Warne Marsh, one of Tristano’s notable students and devotees. Beginning with the lively "Wow," the group moved on to a Marsh-penned extrapolation on "Cherokee" changes titled "Marshmallow." Kimbrough sat out for Konitz’s "Tautology," and then Turner rejoined the group for a funky reading of "Dixie’s Dilemma." "Lennie’s Pennies," Tristano’s minor-key reworking of "Pennies from Heaven," closed the set, with Blake sitting out. Konitz returned for "Carrie’s Trance," a full-company encore.
Once again, the Jazz Composers Collective proved itself one of the most inventive forces in the jazz world. While the brilliance of their original music speaks for itself, their approach to non-original music reveals almost as much about them. Not content to explore the aspects of jazz history that everyone already knows, they delve into the deepest recesses of the tradition, looking for hidden treasures. Honoring a neglected figure like Lennie Tristano, they also honor themselves and serious jazz fans everywhere.
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