Friday, December 11, 2009

60 Birdland Years

It has been a good year for Lee Konitz: Just four years after starting his professional career, he just had teamed up with the Miles Davis group to record Birth of the Cool, he started out as a band leader on his Subconscious-Lee on Prestige Records. The thing he reportedly regrets: He turned down an opportunity to work with Benny Goodman.

Now this year comes to an end. On December 15, 1949, Konitz is about to get ready for a concert in Midtown Manhattan, precisely said at 1678 Broadway, just north of 52nd St, also known as Swing Street. Lee Konitz joins the opening celebrations for a little jazz club which is named after one of the greatest: Birdland.

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60 years and a helluva career later, Konitz returns with an all-master-band. To celebrate the more than once resurrected club, he teams up with Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian. Not the most easy approcach, since all of these musicians have stories to tell in very individual ways. How did it work out?

At 82, Konitz still surprises with his cool approach. Unlike strong horn blowers of the David Murray or Sonny Rollins kind he prefers a more refined tone. Sometime a bit academic, he gives subtle hints of a rich musical heritage. His alto flies above the band though it's never detached.

Charlie Haden literally surfaces and glows in his soli. His face could be seen only when he entered and left the stage - otherwise the whole posture is introverted, focused and wrapped on his multiple strapped instrument. Haden's lyrical bass lines create a not too dense foundament for the quartet. The only flaw this evening is the missing volume. Compared to the other instruments, the bass stays a bit back, maybe just a idiosyncratic decision at the mixing desk in the otherwise gourgeous sound environment.

"Electric arc" would describe best the relation between Brad Mehldau and his piano this evening. The Bösendorfer's visual impact on the stage is the one of a black rock. Humungous, heavy, immovable, unimpressable. Yet the player tickles out the finest lines and scales. Mehldau bends, buckles, winds and contorts his body like a violinist, his head turned sideways, eyes closed, contemptous of the wordly surrounding. Yet his fingers deliver the most complex contributions on this evening into this black trunk of a piano. Mehldaus interface is a lightweight one - improvising, a pausing hand floats just above or underneath the keyboard while the busy one materializes what's developing in Mehldau' musical brain.

Last not least, Paul Motian delivers a sensible example of his art. Never overpowering, always set at the right level of emotion, he constructs a fragile and transparent exoskeleton which mends these strong individuals together to a charming example of cooperation. The rhythm melodist, as the New York Times called him, brings it all together and enables the wonderful meachincs of this quartet - not without leaving his mark on this birthday celebration.

Before it gets gorged down into the virtual vaults, I quote full stop the little text and picture which was to be found on the Birdland website.

"Last July, legendary alto saxophonist Lee Konitz's first ever Birdland performance with the equally eminent drummer Paul Motian (pictured) occurred in the midst of a remarkably collaborative period for both. Konitz went on to play European dates with bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Brad Mehldau and immediately decided to invite all four multi-generational jazz masters to perform at Birdland to help celebrate the club's 60th anniversary (Konitz, like drummer Roy Haynes, performed at Birdland on its opening night, December 15, 1949). Initially recognized for his work on Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool" sessions, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz became a driving force in the "cool school" of jazz. He was associated with pianist theorist Lennie Tristano but branched out to collaborate with jazz legends including Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Elvin Jones and others in a variety of styles. Bassist Charlie Haden was a member of jazz icon Ornette Coleman's ground-breaking quartet and went on to lead well-known groups including The Liberation Music Orchestra and Quartet West. Recently Haden scored a mainstream hit with the country and folk infused recording with his family members, "Rambling Boy." Drummer Paul Motian rose to prominence as a member of pianist Bill Evans' trio. He went on to co-lead an long-running trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell and to lead a series of "Electric Bebop" groups that helped introduce some of modern jazz's contemporary stars including Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and others. Pianist and Nonesuch recording artist Brad Mehldau, "universally admired as one of the most adventurous pianists to arrive on the jazz scene in years," (LA Times) has become one of the most in-demand stars among jazz's under-40 generation for his evocative blend of virtuosity, jazz piano tradition and popular music styles and repertoire." picture & text via

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