Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lee Konitz Frescalalto

Lee Konitz

This is a stunning new album by Lee Konitz with a stellar rhythm section of Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Washington on drums and Peter Washington on bass on a collection of standards that allows the alto saxophone legend to display his fruitful improvisatory skills. "Stella by Starlight" opens with Konitz playing briefly unaccompanied before the rhythm enters and both Barron and Peter Washington take choice solos along with the leader's own dry, slightly sour alto. Konitz's original "Thingin'" also allows his band to shine along with his unpredictable and fresh playing, even avoiding cliches when trading fours with Kenny Washington while the performance fades at close.

A trio record of Barron with this rhythm section would be heaven enough, but add Konitz's alto and you have some magic. Unexpectedly, Konitz scats backed by piano to open "Darn That Dream" before taking an alto solo and then scats after Barron's lovely playing on this duet. The Washingtons return on the swinging "Kary's Trance," "Out of Nowhere" provides another showcase for Konitz's ability to take a familiar number and delight us with his unexpected and fresh improvisation and then scats an improvisation between solos from Peter and Kenny.

After a lovely Konitz ballad, "Gundala," where his lyricism is on full display, there is a superb rendition of the Kaper Bronislaw and Paul Francis Webster classic "Invitation" before the album closes with "Cherokee." Rather than the breakneck tempo "Cherokee" usually is played at, Konitz leads the quartet in a medium walking tempo as he hints at its melodic theme before Kenny Barron accelerates things with a fiery break followed by Kenny Washington's explosive drum break and then the pace slows down with Konitz's reentry. This "Cherokee is a fresh, imaginative end to a fabulous recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371), although I have made minor changes from that review. Here is Konitz playing "Cherokee" from a few years ago.

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