Super groups are, by their very nature, either bright shining stars or catastrophic exploding supernovae. Dream team basketball lineups get beat by upstarts, and the new Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Van Damme movie is sure to be a nonstarter. The reasons for the flops are usually chemistry and vision, both essential requirements.
Same can be said for jazz groups. Listen to a longstanding unit work and its affinity is obvious. Assemble a quartet for a night, or fortnight and evidence of its chemistry (or lack of it) is apparent straightaway.
Such rapport is instantly recognizable from this live 2011 date at New York's Blue Note jazz club by the magnificent quartet of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz., guitarist Bill Frisell
, bassist Gary Peacock
, and drummer Joey Baron
. Performing without prior practice or even a songbook, each track is begun by a different player; a jazz standard is the conversation topic, and the exploration begins. Acrobatics and grandstanding are eschewed here, in favor of a quiet conversational slow-to-medium tempo.
Add these four players to the very small list of groups that can play at such a high level without constant touring. Peacock's trio with Keith Jarrett
and Jack DeJohnette
comes to mind, and the late Paul Motian
's band with Frisell and Joe Lovano
are examples of players with an instant rapport.
Baron, Konitz's drummer of choice these days, opens "I Remember You," hinting at the melody before Frisell enters to state it, then others join in for the all-too-familiar song. Konitz's tone, born from Warne Marsh
and Charlie Parker
, has matured and mellowed into a treasure. At 84, his presence looms large here, but then there is the unmistakable sound of Frisell, ever faithful to not only the standards, but his unique mannerisms. Baron and Peacock present themselves as more than timekeepers; ever expressive, both can carry the day. Baron's drums absolutely sing "Body And Soul," and Peacock provides a mini-clinic with "I Can't Get Started."
Konitz and company spare the fireworks here, but provide a masterpiece of a record.