At an age when most professionals are off playing golf on a Florida course, many musicians just don’t know the meaning of the word "retire." And that’s a good thing. Take eighty year-old bassist Percy Heath, who released his first album under his own name last year; and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz who, in his mid-seventies, is producing some of his best work ever. Last year saw the release of Live-Lee , a stunning duet record with pianist Alan Broadbent; now the American Jazz Institute presents One Day With Lee , a lively recording of Konitz with the Mark Masters Ensemble, that has him in fine form, supported by an outstanding large ensemble.
With a programme of Konitz-penned originals and other tunes largely associated with him, these are vibrant charts that literally jump off the page. Masters has clearly done his homework; along with some fine Kenton-esque arrangements he has incorporated a number of Konitz’s classic solos into the arrangements, most notably on “Lover Man” and “317 East 32nd Street.” The fourteen-piece ensemble is full of fine players, most notably the lyrical and elegant pianist Cecilia Coleman, as well as left coast stalwarts Putter Smith on bass and Kendall Kay on drums.
The rhythm section is distinguished, in fact, in its ability to solidly anchor the proceedings; these players swing like mad on “Thingin’” and “Dream Stepper,” while taking things down a notch for the lush and moving “Gundula.” Masters wields his horn section like a single instrument, demonstrating a remarkable sense of dynamics and compositional grace.
Everyone solos with confidence and a clear understanding of the material, but the star of the show is, of course, Konitz himself. With a tone that is warmer and at times grittier than in his youth, he just seems to get better and better. Lines play with bar boundaries and time yet are coupled with a strong sense of swing; one of the early proponents of the Cool movement, his sound has matured and aged, with a stronger propensity for note bending. His playing is so relaxed on the medium-tempo swinger, “Cork ‘n’ Bib,” that the lines sometimes feel in danger of falling over; yet throughout there is a commitment and understated acuity.
Masters has recorded a number of fine tributes, including The Clifford Brown Songbook , but has taken the opportunity, with One Day With Lee , to pay homage to an artist who, thankfully, is not only still with us, but is continuing to evolve and improve. With exceptional arrangements of classic material, a big band to die for, and a captivating guest soloist, what more can one ask?
Personnel: Lee Konitz (alto saxophone), with the Mark Masters Ensemble: Gary Foster (saxophone), Jerry Pinter (saxophone), Jack Montrose (saxophone), Bill Perkins (saxophone), Scott Englebright (trumpet), Louis Fasman (trumpet), Steve Huffstetter (trumpet), Ron Stout (trumpet), Les Benedict (trombone), Dave Woodley (trombone), Bob Enevoldsen (trombone), Cecilia Coleman (piano), Putter Smith (bass), Kendall Kay (drums), Mark Masters (arrangements, conductor)