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May 16 , 2011

Reviews of the Week

“Live At Birdland”, the new ECM album by the very special quartet of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, has been showered with praise from the press in its first week of release. Peter Rüedi in Switzerland’s Die Weltwoche describes it “My album of the year, already”: “The well-known sources (“Lover Man”, Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland”, Davis’ “Solar”, the old Sinatra hit “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and Rollins’ “Oleo”) are neither parroted nor utilized– they are re-invented. The original shows through like a palimpsest, sometimes more, sometimes less, a short glimpse through swirling mists of enigma. The freest music of all is not the anarchical, but the music that reminds us, however fleetingly, of the bonds it is bursting. Together, Haden’s sonorous bass, Motian’s breathy, aleatoric percussion, Mehldau’s gently amazing piano playing and Konitz’ pervicacious alto amount to something like a school of the fragmentary, an instantaneous recreation of the world.” John Fordham gives the album a five-star review in The Guardian: “When pianist Mehldau, sax legend Konitz and bassist Charlie Haden got together on a 1997 Blue Note session, it not only showed how sympathetic to improvising on familiar songs all three were, but it also helped put the then little-known Mehldau on the map. They reconvene on this captivating live set – totally unpremeditated, without even a setlist – with Paul Motian added on drums. Konitz's sometimes plaintive alto sound and outwardly meandering explorations can suggest a rather ascetic music for those unused to intuitively spun improv that takes a relaxed view of the integrity of famous tunes. But Mehldau's uncanny amplification of Konitz's phrases, and his breathtaking solos are irresistible, as is Konitz's imaginative distortion of the architecture of ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’, and the classical-sounding duo rhapsody that piano and sax get into at its close. Nor is this exclusively a low-key exercise: it includes four-way up-tempo discussions that fizz with collective energy.” Lee Konitz is on the cover of the new issue of US monthly Jazz Times, with a7-page interview with Lee (by pianist Ethan Iverson) inside. From the preamble: “If you’re trying to imagine what jazz sounds like in a dream state, Lee Konitz’s ‘Live At Birdland’ will get you there. A collection of standards recorded at the club, the album features the 83 year old alto saxophonist with the peerless line-up of Mehldau, Haden and Motian and finds their chemistry working at ethereal new heights.” From the Jazz Times interview: Ethan Iverson: “Very few pianists can do one thing with their left hand and a completely different idea in the right hand, the way Brad Mehldau does.” Lee Konitz: “He certainly does it on the record. He’s amazing. He had just finished a concert tour and his chops were in prime form. I asked him afterward if he ever played like that on a record and he said No. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by what they hear.”


To be continued…