Lee Konitz’ Memorial Album

cover SVL1018477

LEEWISE / HANSEN: Partout.1 DIETZ-SCHWARTZ: Alone Together.2 GREEN-HEYMAN-SOUR: Body and Soul.3 LUNDIN: Leewise.1 KONITZ: JesperLee.4 SubcounsciousLee.5 PeggyLee.3 AllanLee.7 JensLee.2 LACY: Skygger.6 STERN: Pazzenger.8 CARMICHAEL-PARISH: Stardust 8 / Lee Konitz, a-sax/s-sax with: 1JAZZPAR All Star Nonet: Jeff Davis, tp; Allan Botchinsky, tp/fl-hn; Erling Kroner, tb; Niels Gerhardt, bs-tb/tuba; Jens Søndergaard, s-sax/a-sax/bar-sax; Pete Gullin, t-sax/bar-sax; Butch Lacy, pno; Jesper Lundgaard, bs; Svend-Erik Nørregaard, dm. 2Konitz, a-sax R channel; Søndergaard, a-sax L channel; 3Peggy Stern, pno; 4Lundgaard, bs; 5Botchinsky, Stern, Lundgaard, Nørregaard; 6JAZZPAR Nonet w/Birgitte Frieboe, voc; 7Botchinsky, fl-hn; 8JAZZPAR Nonet, Stern repl. Lacy, pno / Storyville 1018477 (live & studio: Copenhagen, March 27-29, 1992)

This album of earlier material from 1992 was being prepared by Storyville Records in conjunction with Lee Konitz when the legendary alto saxist died of complications from Covid-19 in the spring of last year. Thankfully, he made it to the ripe old age of 92 and had been contributing to the jazz scene since he first emerged as a major alto sax star in 1947, playing with such legendary jazz greats as Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus. My favorite quote of his was, “Bird [Charlie Parker] came up to me one day and said he liked me because I didn’t try to play his shit. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the only reason I didn’t was that his shit was too hard for me!”

On this album he’s accompanied by the JAZZPAR All Star Nonet, mostly in full but sometimes just by one or a few members. Konitz’ trademark sound, similar to that of Paul Desmond but a little drier in tone, is recognizable at every turn. To my ears, the JAZZPAR Nonet plays with a superb ensemble blend but seems to me somewhat bland and doesn’t swing particularly well. Their beat is, for me, too reminiscent of several of the German cool school musicians and bands of the early 1950s, when they had grasped the harmonic particulars of then-modern jazz but still couldn’t feel the beat properly. As in most cases (but not all), this fault starts with the rhythm section, and neither pianist Butch Lacy, bassist Jesper Lundgaard nor drummer Svend-Erik Nørregaard seem to know how to play a loose jazz beat, either singly or together, and this feeds up into the brass and reed ensemble.

But it’s not just the ensemble as a whole that doesn’t swing, it’s the individual members as well. Listen, for instance, to the alto sax duet Alone Together in which Jens Søndergaard’s too-strict beat even makes Konitz sound stiff. But come to think of it, Konitz does sound stiff on this entire session. Never once does he loosen up and play with the kind of joie-de-vivre you hear on his recordings from the late 1940s through the early 1980s. In a certain sense, time had passed him by, although I recall hearing him in the company of American jazz musicians who could really swing during the 1990s, and in that environment he sounded just fine.

With that being said, I was impressed by Leewise, Jesperlee, PeggyLee et al as music; they’re complex, interesting, and exactly the kind of pieces that made Konitz’ name. On SubconsciousLee, one of the pieces he created while with Tristano, Allan Botchinsky plays an excellent, really swinging flugelhorn solo, and it seemed to me that pianist Peggy Stern helped to wake up the otherwise stodgy rhythm section. In each of these selections with his name at the end, Konitz sounds far more inspired than in the group settings—and yet, on Pazzenger, where Stern replaces Lacy on piano, the band jumps much better.

Skygger has a pretentious, whispery vocal by one Birgitte Frieboe, and isn’t as good as the surrounding material. The album closes with a warm, autumnal rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s old chestnut Stardust, and this, too, finds Konitz in fine shape.

My verdict, then, is that this is an interesting but sadly uneven collection. The first three tracks and Skygger are weak and don’t swing, but the rest of the album is excellent. I wish I could be as positive about the whole thing, but such is life.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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