Lee Konitz: Sound of Surprise

Individuality separates the great jazz soloists from the herd. Evaluated by that standard, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz stands out from the crowd of today’s players, existing with the elite few soloists in the music’s history. It is out of the question that he could be mistaken for anyone else. Moving deeper into his 70s, Konitz still records prolifically on a variety of labels, pursuing improvisation with a purity of conception and dedication to avoidance of cliches and practiced licks. His ratio of inspiration to parts used has always been one of the highest in jazz.

Sound of Surprise demonstrates that Konitz’s originality has not eroded and may, in fact, have increased. Guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron respect Konitz’s preference for space and unconvoluted swing. They seem to sense when and how far to nudge him, the result being that they supply Konitz with the right mixture of tension and relaxation to inspire the risks he loves-and the resulting surprises. All of the pieces are his originals, mostly based on the changes of standards. They include the Konitz classics “Hi Beck,” “Friendlee” and “Subconsciouslee” and several intriguing new compositions. “Singin'” is a free piece featuring Konitz’s vocalese, which consists almost entirely of vowels. His contemporary and fellow Lennie Tristano student, the seldom-heard Ted Brown, is on tenor saxophone for a few tracks, proving as uncompromising as Konitz, if not as startling. Abercrombie, Johnson and Baron have plenty of solo space. Baron’s melodic drum solos are among the joys of the album.