Lee Konitz In The 1980s


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Saxophonist Lee Konitz turned 82 in October 2009 and he's still going as strong and as steady as ever. He recently played a birthday duet concert with pianist Harold Danko. While the set included the usual standards there were also a couple of surprises such as the Konitz original "Kary's Trance." Konitz and Danko have a long history, although they hadn't played together in 15 years. Yet they still seemed to surprise each other. While Konitz has settled into an elder statesman role, he still seems to have the desire to make it interesting for himself, his musical partners and the audience.

Lee Konitz
Round & Round
(1988) 2008

Round And Round is the reissue of a 1988 session originally released by Music Masters. The concept of the disc was to record pieces in 3/4 time. Some naturally fall into this metric category (Sonny Rollins' "Valse Hot," Toots Thielemans' "Bluesette"). Others, like "Lover Man" and "Giant Steps" (which is actually handled in 6/8), are quite unusual to hear performed in this time signature. Presumably Konitz chose this concept to encourage the expression of fresh ideas while improvising.

The disc starts out with a Konitz original, "Round And Round And Round," which actually tries to throw the listener off with a tricky theme played in multiple meters, before settling in a relaxed 3/4 groove. Konitz's alto work is inspired, especially on the latter half of the program. He plays soprano on two tracks but his soprano work is not as distinctive as that with the bigger horn. The rhythm section is solid and gives Konitz the support he needs. While this isn't the most dynamic Konitz recording of its era, it is still worth hearing.

Various Artists
The Song Is You
(1981) 2009

In September 1981 drummer Jack DeJohnette put together a concert to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY. He assembled an impressive lineup of musicians. The rhythm section of himself, Chick Corea (exclusively on acoustic piano at the height of his fusion phase), and bassist Miroslav Vitous performed as a trio and then as backup for sets with Konitz, reed player Anthony Braxton and guitarist Pat Metheny.

From the 1960s through the 1980s Konitz seemed willing to experiment, working with many different players. The appearance of Konitz and Braxton playing together should raise eyebrows considering Konitz's controversial comments regarding Braxton in an issue of The Wire that caused some controversy a few years back. What is surprising is that at this concert, the two musicians seemed to work well together. Braxton gets a feature on "Impressions" and his solo is fierce and brilliant. Then he and Konitz share the rhythm section on "There Is No Greater Love," a piece Braxton had dissected many times. Yet here he seems to be working with Konitz and is almost deferential at times. But ultimately there seems to be a good bonhomie at work. The final track, "All Blues" is a little more rambling and the addition of Metheny with his heavily reverbed guitar seems out of place.

But this was a memorable concert and despite the less than ideal sound (Vitous' arco work sounds particularly shrill and poorly served), it's good to see the music on The Song Is You finally issued. (Note: It appears that the discs reverse the running order of the concert. CD2 starts the concert and CD1 is its second half).

Tracks and Personnel

Round & Round

Tracks: Round And Round And Round; Someday My Prince Will Come; Luv; Nancy; Boo Doo; Valse Hot; Lover Man; Bluesette; Giant Steps.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Fred Hersch: piano; Mike Richmond: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

The Song Is You

Tracks: CD1: Impressions; No Greater Love; All Blues. CD2: Waltz; Isfahan; Stella By Starlight; Round Midnight.

Collective Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Pat Metheny: guitar; Miroslav Vitous: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

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