Recently, I’ve rediscovered the music of Lee Konitz. Actually never lost, I just kind of never favored his sound. Till now. Maybe he has mellowed, or I’ve aged, but to my ears he has set aside attitude to favor beauty.
Konitz, a Lennie Tristano disciple, has for years been undeservedly labeled with a cool-school moniker. His music was never consciously ‘cool’ as much as it was aloof and distant, giving the appearance of arrogance. His tone was acerbic, but had none of the raw vitality of say, Jackie McLean or Ornette Coleman. His music seems to say (at least to me) ‘I warn you not to embrace me.’
But things have changed recently with the release of several recordings starting with the 1997 four-star dates recorded live at the Jazz bakery in Los Angeles with Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau. Both Alone Together and Another Shade Of Blue (Blue Note) are lyrical reinterpretations of jazz standards rich with imagination. Konitz delivers restrained but not straight versions the standards. I fell head over heels for all of it.
He’s back, this time with Japanese Avant/DIW label’s unofficial house band bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron. They were together on Bruce Ackley’s The Hearing, Keiji Hano’s An Unclear Trail: More Than This, Misha Mengelberg’s No Idea and of course all of John Zorn’s Masada outings. Their presence insures if nothing an innovative swinging affair. They share a respect for tradition but not quite a healthy respect.
The trio settles in on eleven Konitz recently penned originals. For the most part they are squarely bebop or post-bop sounds that could have circulated sometime post-Ornette Coleman. Konitz’ relaxed playing runs throughout. “Soundlee” his acappella track is treasured for the improvisation scrapbook of memories cast. This date reminds me of a typical Prestige session of the late-fifties where the musicians assembled late night, perhaps after a local gig, to record tracks with no rehearsal and in one or two takes. They rely on their spontaneity and musicianship. With these three jazzmen that’s no problem to ask.