[JPL] Stirring Up Sound Waves and Giving Them New Shape

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 29 17:06:43 EDT 2007

June 27, 2007
Music Review | Lee Konitz
Stirring Up Sound Waves and Giving Them New Shape 
Lee Konitz’s alto-saxophone sound grows deeper and
darker. He will turn 80 in October, and in the recent
stages of his career, playing more slowly and
investing swing feeling into floppy, balloonlike
notes, his sound has gotten so big and dreamy that
it’s all you feel and hear; what he’s playing — names
of songs and their pedigree — doesn’t matter much.

At Zankel Hall on Monday, in a rigorous and
semiretrospective show for the JVC Jazz Festival New
York occasioned by his birthday, Mr. Konitz gave
plenty of his sound, but also loads of compositions.
Some were written with the musician and arranger Ohad
Talmor: Mr. Konitz faxed him written lines that Mr.
Talmor turned into smartly expanded music for nonet or
big band or soloists with string quartet. 

Mr. Konitz played in all those setups on Monday — with
his New Nonet, the Spring String Quartet from Linz,
Austria, and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos from
Porto, Portugal — and yet he was always ultimately by
himself, breathing his own air.

Since the late 1940s Mr. Konitz has practiced the
bebop device of writing squirrelly new melodic lines
over the chord changes of familiar American songs.
Those lines — like “Thingin,” over “All the Things You
Are” — sound like improvisations themselves, with
run-together phrases that end in midair. This was
expected from him on Monday, and delivered, as was
some counterpoint improvising between two horns, which
he famously did with Warne Marsh long ago. (His foil
at Zankel was Ted Brown, another old colleague of Mr.
Konitz’s, who may have the lightest and quietest
tenor-saxophone sound in the world.)

And Mr. Konitz clearly admires some of the codified,
notated history of jazz: in his version of Louis
Armstrong’s “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” he played
the original Armstrong solo in unison with Mr. Talmor,
while Joe Lovano played soprano-saxophone lines around

But Mr. Konitz is still able to erase context and
preconceptions, and more or less blow your mind. On
Monday he called for “Pretty Peace,” a melody he wrote
based on “Body and Soul.” Mr. Talmor arranged the song
for the string quartet, and structurally it used the
trick of slow revelation: if you hadn’t been alerted,
you might not have recognized its inspiration until
the end, when the lines of “Body and Soul” became
clear. But that felt secondary. 

Here were the four string players, as well as Mr.
Konitz, Mr. Talmor on bass clarinet and the drummer
Paul Motian, who played almost entirely on cymbals
with nylon brushes. The string arrangement was
unobtrusive, and its glassy clarity set off Mr.
Konitz’s breathy, behind-the-beat phrases as something
special; then the strings dropped out altogether, and
Mr. Konitz and Mr. Motian took turns at a kind of pure
improvising, seemingly working from scratch, even if
that meant stopping for five seconds before they
figured out what to do next. Mr. Konitz ended with an
unaccompanied coda, full of strange pathos. He may not
sustain speed for long in his improvisations, but he
still plays elusively and melodically, lodging wobbly
notes in a sure groove, backing away from easy


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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