Jakob Bro, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan
May 9, 2015
Great music gives great expectations. When it was announced that Danish guitarist Jakob Bro
was going on tour with the core of players responsible for the musical magic on his trilogy: Balladeering
(Loveland Records, 2009), Time
(Loveland Records, 2011) and December Song
(Loveland Records, 2013), it was a promise of a singular opportunity to encounter the chemistry between some of the most interesting musicians in modern jazz and a living legend, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz
It was Konitz who poignantly named the first album Balladeering
as an expression for a kind of music that resides somewhere between the slow beauty of a ballad and the wondrous act of instantaneous improvisation.
Bro has been the formal leader of all the sessions documented on the records, but the protagonist of the music has been Konitz. The paradox of an invisible leader is not least due to Bro's compositional approach where he provides delicate musical sketches that leave a lot of room for each musician's imagination. In that sense, Bro's approach is very unselfish and democratic and has provided a setting where each musician can give the best of himself in the context of the composition and this is crucial. Individual expression has been a vital part of the DNA of jazz since the beginning, but it has often found its raison d'être in the solo, sometimes to a point where the composition itself has been an excuse for a formulaic structure where each musician waits for the solo spotlight. Bro's compositions are not interested in classic solos, instead they move toward collective improvisation, but, at the same time, they allow a strong improvisational voice to step forward. This has been the case on the trilogy with Konitz where the saxophonist has spun some of the most achingly beautiful and fragile lines that it is possible to play on the horn.
Another crucial element of Bro's aesthetic is the use of space and silence and this is where the influence from drummer Paul Motian
is evident, Motian who like no other drummer understood and played with the dynamics of silence and space. He was a crucial part of the first album, but he tragically passed away and was not replaced on the remaining albums in the trilogy. Therefore, it was also natural that Bro did not bring a drummer for the concert at Musikhuset in Aarhus where all the key-players from the sessions were gathered, except Motian, bassist Ben Street
(who played bass on Balladeering
) and pianist Craig Taborn
(who played piano on Time
The concert started in a quite unusual way where Konitz asked the audience to hum along to a chord that he played on the saxophone. It was a quite fascinating experience to hear the Zen-like choir of the audience while Konitz was spinning lines on the saxophone.
The use of the human voice became something of a motif for Konitz throughout the concert and that meant that he almost chose wordless singing as his preferred instrument instead of the saxophone. When he did pick it up, the result was wonderful, as when he blew emotionally affecting and lucid lines on "Giant," an homage to Paul Motian.
The musicianship in the group was excellent and the audience enjoyed the concert, so much so that the musicians received a standing ovation in the end. However, it would have been nice to hear some more saxophone from Konitz, but then again, it was also a timely reminder that the musical magic of the records is hard to beat.