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Lee Konitz / Ohad Talmor Big Band Portology OmniTone 2007
Saxophonist Lee Konitz turned eighty years young on October 13, and what better way to flip the bird to Father Time than by producing a year-long series of dynamic new recordings with his nonet, string project and the Ohad Talmor Big Band. If nothing else, this persuasive anthology proves that Konitz has made few concessions to growing old; in other words, he's playing about as well as ever, at a level that has earned him an honored place in the pantheon of celebrated alto saxophonists over the past half-century or more.
Konitz, whose dry, classical sound sets him immediately apart from others, has always been a master of understatement, and Talmor, who wrote all the arrangements, keeps that in mind. His charts are a natural extension of the Konitz persona, even sounding (intentionally) out of tune from time to time. They aren't, of course, nor is Konitz, even though his penchant for contrived dissonance is reminiscent of such trendsetters as pianists Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano or saxophonist Warne Marsh (and paved the way for other pioneers including saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who is applauded in a three-part medley). After opening with one of Konitz's earliest compositions, "Sound Lee, the engaging session continues with "June '05 and the aptly named "New Ballad, which sounds like no ballad I've heard recently but is nonetheless charming. The medley and five-movement "Rhythm Sweet precede the pensive finale, "Relative Major.
Talmor's band is actually Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, but that's beside the point. What is paramount is Konitz's unflagging resourcefulness, not to mention his remarkable endurance (he's in the forefront most of the way on an album whose playing time is more than an hour). His singular voice and superior artistry raise Portology above the commonplace and make it well worth hearing.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.