Lee Konitz: Always Stretching His Sax Three new Konitz recordings radiate the joy of making music in every note.
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Lee Konitz: Always Stretching His Sax

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Lee Konitz: Always Stretching His Sax

Review

Music Reviews

Lee Konitz: Always Stretching His Sax

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TERRY GROSS, host:

Veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz knows and works with plenty of compatible players. But from one tour or engagement to the next, he rarely uses the same combination twice - though a few years ago, he began collaborating with a young trio known as Minsarah, and he invited them to join him at the Village Vanguard last year.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews their live CD and two other recent Konitz outings.

(Soundbite of song, "All the Things You Are")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Lee Konitz, improvising on the chords to "All the Things You Are," for the eight-billionth time on his new CD, "Live at the Village Vanguard."

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Konitz loves revisiting the same tunes over and over, challenging himself to find new things to say and avoiding even personal cliches. The young trio backing him up have a complementary way of giving old tunes a new twist, like the fresh rhythmic perspectives they bring to the jazz standard "Cherokee."

(Soundbite of song, "Cherokee")

WHITEHEAD: It's obvious why Konitz likes playing with the trio Minsarah: bassist Jeff Denson, German pianist Florian Weber and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz. They keep changing the backdrops to stimulate his imagination, while giving him plenty of room to move when he improvises, or to steer the action himself. Now that Konitz is in his early 80s, his tone is a little more acerbic or brittle, his pitch more prone to wander. I'd call his new sound stark if he didn't still radiate the joy of making music with every note.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Lee Konitz has a couple of other new releases out, both recorded around five years ago. One is a DVD in the series "Solos: The Jazz Sessions," from Toronto. Swooping cameras and frequent cross fades can set your head swimming, but the unaccompanied saxophonist radiates calm, crafting beautiful phrases on some of his same favorite tunes. Konitz ruminates in his own sweet time, never needing to raise his voice or conform to anyone else's timing.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Konitz also appears on the new CD "Jugendstil II," masterminded by bass player Stephane Furic Leibovici. Most of the album is for trio, with Chris Cheek on tenor sax. So Konitz gets to indulge two more passions: playing in an unconventional setting and intertwining with a compatible saxophonist in unhurried counterpoint. Furic Leibovici keeps his bass in the background. He's the leader, but the focus is on the horns.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Listening to Lee Konitz in each of these varied settings, you get a sense of how he's managed to sustain a 65-year career. He has his comfort zones, but he also keeps stretching himself, measuring his worth and his ideas whenever he puts the horn to his mouth.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. Thanks to Frank van der Walle for engineering assistance in Amsterdam, where Kevin recorded this review.

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