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Lee Konitz: Portology and Ashiya

Ken Dryden By

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Lee Konitz/Ohad Talmor Big Band, featuring Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos

Portology

OmniTone

2007
Walter Lang & Lee Konitz

Ashiya

Pirouet

2007


Lee Konitz has displayed the spirit of adventure during his long career, never settling for long into any one style of playing or band lineup. Whether performing solo, in a small group or with a large ensemble, the alto saxophonist continues to create music that has a timeless, very personal sound.

Over the past few years Konitz' working relationship with arranger/conductor Ohad Talmor has been a particularly productive one. Portology marks their third recorded collaboration, this time pairing the adventurous alto saxophonist with the 17-piece Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. The CD gets its name due to the sponsorship of the Port Wine Institute in Portugal, which made this large ensemble recording possible.

Though Konitz is best known for creating elaborate variations on standards, the compositions arranged for the date include one extended suite, a brief medley and four stand-alone works, only one of which, "Sound-Lee," was not written for this session. Konitz penned "Sound-Lee" in the late '40s though this demanding bop vehicle is taken into new territory by Talmor's scoring, which alternates between progressive big band jazz and dissonant fusion.

The remaining compositions were jointly conceived by Konitz and Talmor, with the arranger often building upon the saxophonist's "fragments and extended themes," as he likes to refer to them. "Ornetty," dedicated to Konitz' fellow alto saxophonist and good friend, is a quirky but not completely free jazz song. It segues into the maudlin "September 11th" before briefly recapping the opening theme. The five-part "Rhythm Sweet" ranges from the playful bop of "'Dante" (an "I Got Rhythm" variation) to the sauntering "To Be Or Not To Be" and the haunting miniature "Tempo di Lee." Konitz, the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos and Talmor's demanding charts all rise to each other's challenges.

A few months prior to his 80th birthday last fall, Konitz entered the studio with the German pianist Walter Lang for a duo recording. Lang has previously collaborated with Konitz in a number of concerts, but Ashiya is their first CD together. Though quite familiar with this format, this is one of the few times that Konitz isn't playing a mix of standards and his own works. Lang is better known abroad since almost all of his work as a leader has appeared on European labels; he has made only a handful of appearances as a sideman on domestic releases.

Konitz' dry, whimsical tone is well served by Lang's eloquent style. The pianist composed ten originals for the date; one can hear a classical background in their framework. The easygoing opener, "Monk's Cottage," sounds like it has been derived from a familiar standard, though it never clearly reveals its source. The upbeat "Open Water" blends an elaborate post-bop theme with a joyous fugue by the two musicians. The haunting title ballad and the melancholy "Farewell" are intimate affairs. Also included are three brief duo improvisations.

Tracks and Personnel



Portology

Tracks: Sound Lee; June '05; A New Ballad; Medley: Ornetty/September 11th/Ornetty; 'Dante; To Be Or Not To; Fragmente; Tempo Di Lee; Moderato; Relative Major.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Ohad Talmor: conductor, arranger, musical director; Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: Jose Luis Rego: reeds; Joao Guimaraes: reeds; Joao Pedro Brandao: reeds; Mario Santos: reeds; Ze Pedro Coelho: reeds; Rui Teixeira: reeds; Erick Poirier: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rogerio Ribeiro: trumpet, flugelhorn; Susana Silva: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jose Silva: trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Jousseein: trombones; Alvo Pinto: trombones; Daniel Dias: trombones; Goncalo Dias: trombones; Andre Fernandes: electric guitar; Carlos Azevedo: piano; Pedro Guedes: piano; Demian Cabaud: bass; Mario Barreiros: drums.

Ashiya

Tracks: Monk's Cottage; Good Way; Open Water; Interlude I; Ashiya; Soft Wind Blowing; Way Too Early; What a Treat; Valse Élégance; Casa Do Tom; Interlude II; Farewell; Epilogue.

Personnel: Walter Lang: piano; Lee Konitz: alto sax.

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