Monday, August 30, 2010

Lee Konitz Quartet at the Iridium

I was fortunate enough to catch the last set of Lee Konitz's run at the Iridium with an amazing quartet! I've seen Lee play several times over the years, and I'm always struck by how fresh his playing sounds. There's such a purity to the melodies that he plays, they grab you instantly but are always surprising. One of the things you always hear people say about Lee is that he never seems to repeat himself, although he's played the same repertoire of standards for....a long, long time, he's 83 for god's sake!
The rhythm section was equally fascinating of course; Ethan Iverson, Larry Grenadier, and Jorge Rossy. I had heard about Lee's policy of no amplification, and wondered how it sound. At the beginning of the set, I found myself straining to hear the piano a little, but as the kept playing either my ears adjusted or the band balanced themselves out and everything sounded perfect. I think the lack of amplification also gave the concert a more intimate feel. Ethan mentioned on his blog about what a powerful tone Lee has, and it was definitely true! Lee's alto sound is so clear and strong, and the acoustic rhythm section only made this more apparent.
There were also many surreal moments. Lee wandered around the stage, at times playing right by Ethan at the piano, sometimes at the far left of the stage, and occasionally in the front where the leader is supposed to play. Lee let the other guys start a tune of their choice, and Larry started playing Stella By Starlight unaccompanied with such a powerful and elusive groove, I had no idea what tune he was playing. Then Ethan took an incredibly abstract solo, "jazz surrealism" par excellence, to borrow a term that Ethan uses. At the end of Ethan's solo they started playing the tune in a very straightforward manner to make way for Lee, who had been watching at the side of the stage with an inscrutable look on his face. I couldn't help but laugh when he asked Ethan what tune they were playing. That was the other benefit of no amplification. With your ears more attuned to what was coming from the stage, you could hear all the banter.
At one point, Lee announced that Jorge was going to sing a song. After a somewhat awkward pause, Jorge and son broke into a rendition of Chet Baker's "Dandelion" using that technique where you cup your hands and clap in front of your mouth, making a sound like a tuned drum. It was great! Jazz surrealism, indeed.

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