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Lee Konitz/Barbara Casini: Outra Vez

I’d rather hear saxophonist Lee Konitz sing than most any other scat vocalist. He does it in “Meditacao” on the Outra Vez CD: After the sweet-voiced Barbara Casini warbles the song straightforwardly, Konitz doo-doo-wees for a jaunty chorus and an obbligato to her second vocal chorus. Its lovely melody, and his modest tenor voice and occasionally precarious intonation add to the illusion of pleasant humor. The truth is, like his alto sax playing, Konitz’s vocals are bold and confident, with subtle rhythmic and harmonic touches.

These three CDs are subtitled Lee Konitz in Italy, but the program for Outra Vez is Brazilian in nature, filled with bossa novas. The contrast of Casini and Konitz is delightful. Far from a melismatic diva, she’s an artful singer whose dramatic sense is restrained by good taste; she varies her vibratos and her on-the-beat versus offbeat phrases. Against her pop sensibility, Konitz is all jazz, always improvising, with beautifully irregular accenting, frequent touches of blues and sax lines mostly within Casini’s soprano range. Again and again his melodies flow in shapely solo choruses with a bare minimum of ornamentation; don’t miss Konitz on take one of the title piece and in “Rapaz de Bem,” especially. His “cool” sound, with its variable density, fine-grained edge and infrequent narrow vibrato, has warmth. Like the sweet-hot contrasts of early jazz, Casini and Konitz excellently demonstrate how jazz expression and creation can transform pop concepts into musical-emotional revelation. In place of a full rhythm section, the fine electric guitarist Sandro Gibellini provides understated accompaniment with a gentle tone and, with bows to Jim Hall, the occasional solo.

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