Starting with his association with Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz proved to be a curious and creative player who over time has pursued some interesting musical ideas quite successfully. A few years after an excellent album of duets, Konitz recorded Peacemeal, a quintet album of hit-or-miss ideas that nevertheless remains an intriguing listen decades after its 1969 release.
Despite the play on words, Peacemeal is an appropriate title for a session dedicated to pursuing three different projects at once. The first is interpretations of songs from Bela Bartok’s Mikrokosmos series, yet another attempt to fuse classical composition with jazz improvisation. This is a much more interesting idea in theory than in execution; the heads, such as they are, are clunky, stiff and martial, and the musicians don’t seem to advance into improvisation as much as escape into it. This strict adherence to form eventually gives way to a twisting and reshaping of the themes into various improvisations, an approach that the group handles well. As elsewhere on the record, the muscular drumming of Jack DeJohnette and the rubbery bass of Eddie Gomez provide an elastic footing on which the front line carves out sharp riffs and phrases.
The second project is readings of standards with the conventional heads replaced by faithful transcriptions of solos from recorded versions by Roy Eldridge and Lester Young. These tunes eventually evolve into fairly conventional (at least for Konitz) renditions, a curious method that makes one wonder what he was trying to achieve (homage to his idols, perhaps.) However, the best material on the session is that contributed by Katz and Konitz. Katz’s compositions in particular are quite radical, with melodies that dart into unexpected corners and provide a framework for loose improvisation that seems inspired by Miles Davis’s quintet recordings from a few years prior.
Peacemeal also features some awkward experiments with electronics, which were creeping their way into jazz before anyone really knew what to do with them. Thus we have, in addition to electric piano and bass, the Multivider, an alien-sounding attachment that doubles Konitz’s alto an octave below. Given Konitz’s exploratory bent, it’s not surprising that he would explore the new shades available by being plugged in, but the contraption sounds way too artificial and was fortunately abandoned by most who tried it.
Peacemeal is a restless, arty session, the product of a man who may have had too many ideas in his head to commit to any of them fully. While one can appreciate the artistry of the principal players, Konitz is at his most accomplished elsewhere.
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Personnel: Lee Konitz - alto, tenor, and Multivider (electric) saxophones; Marshall Brown - valve trombone, baritone horn; Dick Katz - acoustic and electric piano; Eddie Gomez - bass; Jack DeJohnette - drums.