Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer
March 21, 2012
An improvising dialogue has been steadily developing between veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz
and recently emerging pianist Dan Tepfer
. Konitz is 84, Tepfer is 30. It's already been three years since their collaborative album on the Sunnyside label , 2009's Duets With Lee
. The relationship continues, its aim a flowing exploration, but there's nearly always a tune at the core, often one with a deeply established substance. This was a one-nighter, with just two sets, so it was no surprise that the Standard was pleasingly packed down at the front tables. This was one of the club's most intimate gigs, and the audience was suitably hushed, gratifyingly concentrated in anticipation of the music to come.
The beginning was slightly uncertain. Konitz had arrived from Germany the previous day, and had inexplicably left his horn behind. Magnifying the perplexity, it seemed as though he'd postponed familiarization with a borrowed alto until the very last onstage minute. He looked doubtful about the mouthpiece and his chosen reed was warped. Curious. So, Konitz swiftly left the stage, suggesting that Tepfer play one of his own variations of the Goldberg Variations, as heard on their recent Sunnyside album.
This was quite an unsettling start, and no one was helping out Konitz. He wasn't given a separate microphone to engage with the audience, so had to project his voice through one of two overhanging ambient microphones, which were presumably requested as his preferred horn amplification. Then, Tepfer was somewhat inert in terms of helping out his elder, and a video cameraman in the corner was similarly mute when Konitz addressed him, our saxophone statesman left isolated in his moment of doubt.
Following the engaging Tepfer exploration, Konitz returned, and the pair began its journey. Initially, Konitz was visibly dissatisfied with his mouthpiece, making frequent adjustments. After about five or ten minutes, it was finally possible to enter an undistracted state where the music's transcendence was allowed to develop naturally. It was at this point that Konitz and Tepfer eased into their special rapport, and the audience became relaxed enough to fly. Not that complete passivity was ever desired for this session, just the freedom to be immersed unselfconsciously in the duo's very particular sonic dream-world. Konitz, being a willfully eccentric character, may well have been deliberately staging this elaborate ritual as a teaser for the crowd.
Once flowing, it was evident that Konitz mostly adopted the leading role, guiding the melody whilst Tepfer elaborated, punctuated, emphasized and underscored. Tepfer filled his soloing with lively, dynamic detail, so there was always a sense of flowery detailing, clinging on to a linear structuring. Konitz was invariably clean-cutting, sour-squirting convoluted phrases that wriggled and fidgeted upwards as the improvisation refined its logically bittersweet taste. Each note was carefully enunciated, delivered with an angular bite. Konitz filled his hard-edged precision with a glimmering emotional expression. Always keen-edged, the duo's extensive streams met long-separated tributaries each time Konitz and Tepfer connected or coincided, pulling a piece together before nimbly traipsing off to separate corners of the glade. The troubled origins of the set were soon a distant memory, and the bulk of the pair's playing created a completely spellbinding aura of musical intimacy. The audience was ensnared by this rare craftsmanship.
Bill Frisell / Sam Amidon
(le) Poisson Rouge
March 21, 2012
Later that same evening, another duo set was on offer down in Greenwich Village. Although not quite as extreme as the Konitz-Tepfer generational divide, a similar dynamic was in place for the meeting between guitarist Bill Frisell
and multi-instrumental songster Sam Amidon. Frisell is 61, and Amidon is, at 30, the same age as Tepfer. Frisell is known for his collaborative activities, but Amidon has hitherto been known chiefly as a solo artist. On a previous occasion, Amidon played for a handful of folks at The Stone, but since then, his indie-troubadour status has risen dramatically. Interestingly, the newly-dawned combination of these two artists has the effect of bringing in audience members from at least two camps. Given that Frisell has long dwelled in the rustic, rootsy, old-timey country zone, their pairing, although initially surprising, seemed upon consideration to be perfectly natural.