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LEE KONITZ

Frescalalto

Impulse! 0602557208733

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Stella By Starlight

  2. Thingin

  3. Darn That Dream

  4. Kary's Trance

  5. Out Of Nowhere

  6. Gundula

  7. Invitation

  8. Cherokee

    Lee Konitz - Alto sax, vocals

    Kenny Barron - Piano

    Peter Washington - Bass

    Kenny Washington -Drums

    I've only heard Lee Konitz a couple of times in live performance in the UK, the last time almost thirty years ago with the Shades of Kenton Orchestra. The Chicago-born alto sax player would have been in his early sixties then, in his prime I guess, and here we have him, approaching his ninetieth birthday, still performing and recording. His track record, of course, has been outstanding, from early days with pianist Lennie Tristano, his involvement with the Miles Davis famous Birth Of The Cool recordings and his time with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, to a long and illustrious career. His is a distinctive sound which influenced West Coast altoists such as Shank, Pepper and Paul Desmond. He is joined on this album by the veteran Kenny Barron, still much in demand and most recently heard with the Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio. On bass, there is another class act, Peter Washington, who started off his musical odyssey in the San Francisco area but then moved to the East Coast where he had a couple of years with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He has made numerous recordings over the years and is a bassist of choice for many. Meanwhile, drummer Kenny Washington (no relation!) originally played with various Konitz groups as long ago as 1977-78 and, in 1992, recorded a fine album with him ( Jazz Nocturne).

    There are three Konitz originals on the album, namely Thingin, Kary's Trance and Gundula. The rest are standards. I thought the opening track, Stella By Starlight, did an excellent job of introducing the group members to listeners who are not familiar with their work. Nine and a half minutes gives ample time to appreciate Barron's nimble keyboard skills, Peter Washington's dexterity on bass, Kenny Washington's discreet presence on drums and, of course, Konitz himself, drawing on those decades of experience. Darn That Dream, unexpectedly, has some gentle scat-singing from Lee. It's not as embarassing as it might have been, indeed it's quite endearing, perhaps because of a musician's sense of what works and what might not. Barron is typically imaginative in his solo and when Konitz takes up the alto, some of his old panache is evident. Those standards are maintained on the Konitz piece, Kary's Trance, an uptempo adventure with an easy swing to it. Konitz and Barron are comfortably relaxed and there is adept drumming to be heard as a bonus. Thingin has chord changes based on Jerome Kern's melodyAll The Things You Are. The Konitz ballad,Gundula, features Lee's mournful alto. Out Of Nowhere presents a further chance to assess the Konitz vocal chords but the highlight, as so often on the album, is the exceptional Kenny Barron. Invitation simply flows and the group as a whole shine. The final track is that old war-horse Cherokee. This is an unusual exploration of the familiar theme, breakneck at times, gentler at others.

    I was led to search out a Blue Note CD from 1997, Alone Together, where Konitz was teamed with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, so that I could compare the afore-mentioned version of Cherokee there with this latest one. Certainly, the altoist's tone is more fragile these days and back then the Ray Noble classic received almost eleven minutes air-time as against just short of four now. But that discursive approach and distinctive sound remains. I liked the way on this disc that no-one hogs the limelight. The honours are deservedly shared and the listener's enjoyment enhanced in consequence.

    James Poore

 

 


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