One of the most exciting and unique aspects of "saxophonitz" Lee Konitz's playing and writing is his intense respect for both the intuitive nature of the improvisational process as well as the practical nuts and bolts of making music with others. This is a characteristic of many of pianist/pedagogue Lennie Tristano's pupils to a certain extent, but Konitz has always been the most creatively restless of that school (at one point Tristano himself felt "betrayed" by Konitz's individualism). A thorough mastery of be-bop harmony and small-group dynamics has allowed him to explore a multiplicity of options within the improvisational context, without ever abandoning his firm links with the jazz tradition. His approach is about more than excellent craftsmanship. Konitz is always very focused on creating in the moment, measuring his effect on the music and adjusting his articulation accordingly. His approach to the marketplace has been patient and persistent, and the recordings have maintained a high degree of excellence. He has obviously been reflecting lately on the essential elements of his musical past and distilling them, deriving Some New Stuff from the process. This new disc makes one thing quite clear: Konitz's musical sensitivities have only intensified after sixty years of playing.
Many critics still feel that Tristano and his disciples had trouble dealing with strong drummers; Some New Stuff should finally put that annoying and persistent misconception to death. A cursory glance at the list of drummers Konitz has worked with reads like a who's who of the finest players in the history of the music-including Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Shelly Manne, and Jack DeJohnette. The irreverent virtuosity of this new release is somewhat reminiscent of Motion (Verve, 1961), a trio record which featured Elvin Jones, perhaps the most forceful of all the sixties drummers. Trios in general are necessarily collective propositions; everyone must be ready and willing to contribute in order for the music to happen. Motion is Konitz's personal favorite among his own recordings, and it sounds like that particular trio was somewhere in the back of his mind while recording Some New Stuff.
The drummer on this session, Joey Baron, is now widely known to listeners of creative improvised music. His brilliant work both as a leader ( Barondown, Downhome ) and sideman (with Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, Misha Mengelberg, etc.) has established him as one of the most authoritative and influential of the current American drummers. His solos and accompaniments display a wealth of ideas and an incredible control over the dynamics of the drum set. After six years of playing alongside one another in John Zorn's Masada quartet, the rapport between bassist Greg Cohen and Baron is nearly telepathic. Cohen is the quintessential bassist for a trio of this nature; he excels at laying firm temporal foundations and rhythmic ostinati, and possesses an expansive, warm tone. He solos effectively, and his basslines possess a melodic focus which gently pushes the music along, serving as an excellent foil for some of Konitz's and Baron's sharper statements. The saxophonist adapts himself remarkably to the dark intensity of the bass and drums, and responds with some of the most insistent, sinuous phrases of his career. Without sacrificing grace or subtlety, the trio's astute rhythmic focus lends a great deal of urgency to the overall sound.
Unlike Konitz's last trio effort, the somewhat tentative Three Guys (with Steve Swallow and Paul Motian, on Enja), Some New Stuff consists entirely of his original pieces (including a revelatory solo rendition of "Sound-Lee"). Their high quality is yet another testament to the benefits of his creative patience. The saxophonist has let his music unfold at it's own pace, and is now reaping tremendous rewards; in his brief liner note, he mentions that tunes are coming practically every day lately. There should be no doubt that Konitz is currently in one of his most creative phases, and Some New Stuff is further evidence in favor of that assertion. More, please.