Few jazz musicians have made as successful and long-running use of the name-based pun as Lee Konitz. Sharing phonetic semblance to an almost ubiquitously applicable suffix certainly helps. In fact, that other famous Lee (Morgan that is) probably came closest in number with these sort of clever play-on-words compositions. Had the trumpeter been blessed with the longevity of the saxophonist, he might well have surpassed him. But all this is really moot when it comes to the music. Lee Konitz continues to hold court as one of the most inventive improvisors in the century- plus old idiom of jazz. His instantly recognizable alto still actively seeks out new and flexible springboards from which to soar.
Fall of 2000 presented just such a setting when Konitz convened with pianist Alan Broadbent for a week-long stretch at the Jazz Bakery. The venue remains one of Konitz’s favorite and most frequented West Coast haunts and his comfortable familiarity with the surroundings usually results in exemplary music. Past projects like the two album summit with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, captured on Alone Together and Another Shade of Blue, being but two examples. Konitz isn’t shy about his preferences when it comes to standards. He’s been referencing the same core batch for decades and several of the perennials receive full bloom renderings here.
Broadbent’s punctuations of the Konitz-driven melody on “I’ll Remember April” start out a bit wobbly, but soon the duo finds a complimentary stride. Spooling out fluttery ribbons of notes, the saxophonist seems perfectly at home in the familiar ballad surroundings. “Sweet and Lovely” sustains the romantic mood with the pianist piloting the improvisatory trolley this time out of the gate. The resulting nimble patterning of prefatory chords spreads out into a launching pad Konitz’s crisply carbonated alto, a spring of bubbly phrases pouring in easy spouts from the bell of his horn. Broadbent rolls back into a supportive stance with stair-step scalar comping before embarking on another involved solo across the keys.
On Charlie Parker signature “Cherokee,” a perfect compliment to the earlier “Sequentialee,” both in title and swaying bebop line. Konitz fattens his tone even further through an acappella introduction, ingeniously incorporating space and an implied sense of rhythm as he suspends curlicued phrases for carefully measured seconds. These bold unaccompanied passages are among the finest moments of the disc. Broadbent answers with a circuitous jaunt through the theme, also in isolation, until the two come together for a tight and agile summation. “Gundula,” eponymously dedicated to Konitz’s wife, acts another ideal vehicle for his bittersweet locutions, this time with a heartfelt emotion prominently on hand.
So it goes through a handful of other tunes, most notably “317 East 32nd Street,” an address, it turns out, that was home to Lennie Tristano’s New York studio and “Subconscious-Lee,” the saxophonist’s calling card since early Fifties. The latter pun-spun piece encapsulates, both in title and execution, the extrasensory level at which Konitz always seems to operate. While it’s true that the man’s discography now numbers easily in the triple digits, and a fair share of those entries are duo situations with piano as foil, skeptics would be hard pressed to find any two Konitz albums that deliver the same surprises and content. This set is just as autonomous and adds another unique volume to the shelves of what is now a library of modern classics.
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