Lee Konitz, who turns 80 in October, ambled on stage last night at New York’s Zankel Hall, blew a note, asked his audience to hum it, then, as we all hummed it continuously like a dirge, he blew over it on his alto sax, an improvised solo, darting and weaving, choppy then breezy, sifting changes, shifting rhythms, and all so very cool. It lasted five minutes, it probably could have gone much longer. Then two old pals, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Paul Motian, joined him, and they played standards. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano came out to trade fours and eights. They all left, and on came a string quartet, which played ballads and Debussy, Konitz cruising over the sweet strings in his signature airy tone, with its syncopated cadences and wry, insouciant swing.
If Keith Jarrett weren’t such a magnificent pianist, it would be intolerable to watch him in concert. His screechy humming and moaning, his lizard leering and preening—in three decades of seeing him play, I’ve never managed, despite some effort, to find the charm in his theatrics. And yet, he usually has me from his first chord—so warm, rich, and intriguingly edgy—especially the past few years, as he’s tightened his rhapsodic tendencies while enriching his lyrical core.
The JVC Jazz Festival is in New York City (a bit of an absurdity: New York City is a jazz festival, all the time). A crazy schedule prevents me from seeing much this year (less and less of this festival is actually jazz, in any case), but I’m definitely catching the Keith Jarrett-Gary Peacock-Jack DeJohnette trio, Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, and Lee Konitz playing with a few bands, in honor of his 80th birthday (!), Monday night at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.
Anat Cohen’s Poetica, on her own Anzic Records label, is a fresh breeze of an album, and I mean that in a good way. Still in her 20s, Cohen plays clarinet with a polished edge and verve second only to Don Byron’s. Born in Tel Aviv, schooled at Berklee, honed in New York clubs, playing not just modern jazz but Brazilian Choro and Dixieland, she lets all her influences show but none of them dominate. Her tone bears something of klezmer’s lilt but none of its schmaltz. Her arrangements have the joyful-melancholic sway of Israeli or Latin folk music but none of its sentimentality. On the album, she also plays two knottily catchy original tunes, a Jacques Brel song, and a tinglingly lovely cover of Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” the last backed by a string quartet. The sound, mixed by Joe Ferla and mastered by Sony’s Mark Wilder, is excellent.
Jazz Messenger, June 15, 2007
I launch this blog with two bits of news that should make all jazz fans quiver. A brief prelude: Three years ago, an archivist at the Library of Congress discovered, during a routine inventory, the long-lost tapes of a 1957 concert at Carnegie Hall by Thelonious Monk’s quartet featuring John Coltrane. The tapes were pristine. The music was glorious, Monk playing his most archly elegant piano, Coltrane his most relaxed yet searching tenor sax. Blue Note released the concert tapes on CD, to jaw-dropping acclaim.
Last December, I posted a swooning review of Acoustic Sounds' two-disc, 45rpm, 200-gram Quality Records Pressings of Ella & Louis, the 1956 Verve album of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (backed by Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, and Buddy Rich), which may be the most delightful vocal album everand, in this pressing, perhaps the most amazing-sounding.
Now Chad Kassem, the reissue house's proprietor, has come out with the 1957 sequel, Ella & Louis Again (same cast, but with Louis Bellson replacing Rich on drums, for the better). It's swoon time all over. . .
As usual around this time of year, I have a column in Slate (where I usually write about foreign and military policy), listing my picks for the 10 best jazz albums of the year and, in this case, the two best jazz reissues. Here’s the list, and regular readers might recall that I’ve reviewed almost all of them in this blog-space (or in Stereophile magazine) over the past twelve months.