Lee Konitz: The Real Lee Konitz

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You know the experimental Lee Konitz; he isn’t here. No carefully-planned abstractions or sweating in a studio – everything is spontaneous, including the way it was made. The agent calls on a Friday: "Do you want to open in Pittsburgh on Monday?" He did, and a band was created with a few phone calls. The clubowner likes them and offers a second week; a group sound is forming, and Lee is impressed. Returning to New York on his off-day, he grabs a tape machine. Peter Ind sets up the mikes, rushes downstairs to hit the switch, then hustles back up to take his bass and start the show. Hectic, but the music isn’t: some good standards and familiar changes. Nothing fancy, but good enough for Lee to call it (at the time) his best work on records. There are some I like better, but this is good – and it’s real.

The sound is cozy, if a bit cloudy at times. You’re in the Midway Lounge, the band situated right behind the bar. No piano, but you never miss it: Billy Bauer’s on guitar, letting it ring with big chords. Lee’s tone is gentle and creamy, seamless as he cruises through "Straightaway". (Actually, it’s "All of Me" with a new theme.) Dick Scott jabs little accents while the cymbal rides steady; the sax rolls on, as smooth as ever. (Think Paul Desmond, with a little more guts.) It’s a joyous three minutes, and only the fade can stop the mood. (Some fades are abrupt; Konitz did the editing, and if a solo lagged or a note cracked, it never made the album.) Turn the sound up for "Foolin’ Myself": this is a workout for Ind, bending large with fat bouncy notes. (Somebody says "Yeah!", and I concur.)

Things get real cozy for "You Go to My Head," and the alto has a cute little growl. Bauer goes loud and lush, like an organ in spots; Scott marches on, somber among the tenderness. (Lee hints an odd theme, heard in Warner Brothers cartoons; we hear it again in "Melancholy Baby.") There’s a high active chorus, then a slower take, and high again before it fades. (No! We want more...)

We get more with "Pennies in Minor", the album’s best with a special guest. (Don Ferrara, a friend of Konitz’, flew in for the weekend shows.) We begin at the end of a Bauer solo; is it an odd structure or an odd edit? The altered chords do wonders for the tune (you know what it’s based on); it’s changed into a nervous walk. Konitz does a kind of sidestep; behind him Ferrara and Bauer – and they’re thick as a brass section. Ind takes a nice springy solo; Bauer’s comp is an angel’s harp. The notes compare Ferrara to Roy Eldridge, but I don’t see it – more relaxed than Eldridge, he flutters soft notes in a friendly kind of way. He and Lee does a chorus together, then easy exchanges with Scott. (Not even a full chorus – the fade again prevails.)

"Easy Livin’" is a joy – another ballad, but in Lee’s sweet tone. (It’s so lovely a fan whistles along.) Billy’s comp is busier than normal, and the brushes are gold. Hear the crowd shat, and the rattle of glasses – this is made for relaxin’. (And applauding; it’s the only track where we hear it.) And we close with a jump: "Midway" bounces, the chords of "Indiana" and a theme close to "Donna Lee". The alto is breathless: ideas keep coming and the spirits are high. The end comes too soon, but the joy never ends – no wonder the club kept him another week.

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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