January/February 1998

Lee Konitz
In Harvard Square
Black Lion

You don't have to be a hard core fan to recognize that Konitz at his best is a wonderfully inspired improviser, and these '54-'55 recordings capture him in peak form. His phrasing, attack, and the beautiful flow of ideas will make believers out of any but those who just can't hear what he's after with that tone at all. The only problem I have with early Konitz is that his pianists-including demigod Lennie-often employed very predictable phrasing. Incongruously, these same pianists specialized as composers in pieces of spectacular rhythmic complexity. Much of Ronnie Ball's playing here, and his excellent "Ronnie's Tune" and "Froggy Day," are offered in evidence. Lee's "No Splices" and "Ablution" are also musical tongue twisters a la Tristano. Seven tracks feature Peter Ind and Jeff Morton, with Percy Heath and Al Levitt doing duty on three live tracks. Both bassists sound great, both drummers subsidiary. The live tracks show how hot this supposed iceberg could be, and may surprise listeners who do not know his spectacular Motion date with Elvin Jones.

Originally published in January/February 1998
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