Judging from their frequent occurrence in his long discography, duet sessions are among Lee Konitz's favorites. These intimate settings have also encouraged some of his best work; for example, his 1967 album The Lee Konitz Duets (Milestone/OJC), on which he performed with several diverse partners in an astonishing range of styles. The mood is more focussed on Sunnyside's reissue of Toot Sweet, a 1982 session with Michel Petrucciani originally released on the now-defunct Owl label.
At the time of the recording, the pianist was not yet 20 years old, and the marks of his acknowledged greatest influence, Bill Evans, are readily apparent. In fact, the opening track, a searching "I Hear A Rhapsody" readily brings to mind Evans' own duet version with Jim Hall from the classic Undercurrent (United Artists 1962; reissued on Blue Note). Petrucciani is his own man, however, even at this early stage; his lovely solo piece "To Erlinda" begins in a pensive Evans mode, but soon moves through sweeping runs, thunderous left-hand chords, and bluesy asides in a more original style.
Konitz, as usual, methodically explores every nook and cranny of each tune's melody, particularly on the 15-minute, abstract takes of "Round About Midnight" and "Lover Man" that form the centerpiece of the album. Although Konitz is often referred to as a "cool-toned" altoist, this is somewhat misleading; he sometimes produces a quite astringent sound, particularly in the upper register, with a bit of blues wail to it. This suits perfectly the pathos inherent in "Lover Man," which offers the best playing on the record.
On this tune, Konitz continually dances in an angular fashion around the melody, never quite actually playing it through, but revealing its every facet by a kind of musical triangulation. Petrucciani alternately prods and follows his elder partner through the tune, here offerring a propulsive, bluesy foundation, there picking up phrases of Konitz's and dancing them around the rhythm. Throughout the album but especially in this setting, the interaction between the musicians is wonderful, as they play with an attentiveness and empathy that is a joy to hear. This is a great find, and kudos to Sunnyside for resurrecting it. Highly recommended.